Novel captures essence of Minnesota through its food and drink

If you like beer or pie or Minnesota, you will love this book.

The Lager QueenThe Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal is about a pair of Minnesota sisters and their families. One sister inherits the family farm when Dad dies, one sister gets nothing. How would their lives have turned out differently if the poorer sister got her fair share?

With the proceeds from the farm, the seemingly fortunate sister brews beer and builds a successful company with the motto, “Drink lots. It’s Blotz.” The other sister bakes award-wining pies at the local nursing home. Oh, the power of pie!

“She felt the dry flour between her fingers, and thought about being a great-grandmother. She thought about it like how a tree in winter thinks about its leaves. She rolled this thought over the dough, and pressed it into its edges. The sun fell outside, and she didn’t reach for the lights. The pie baked in the dark, and she sat in her quiet kitchen and waited. She was good at that. She was seventy-seven years old, and she had all the time in the world.”

I picked up this book last year after hearing an interview on National Public Radio with the author about how he channels the voices of the older ladies in his family; he nails them. His Minnesota phrasing is on point, and he evidently has experienced Minnesota winters:

“Walking to work afterward, it began to snow, and Diana remembered when she’d been thrilled by the sight of the stuff. As a little kid without a lot of toys, snow was versatile, inexhaustible, and dynamic. It was all the toys. Now, it just made her late to work.”

I laughed out loud when a character had to put the kibosh on a something. Stradal is less successful with Diana, the youngest character, but that didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of this book.

The other thing he’s surprising successful with is mixing socio-economic classes. Both poor and rich characters rang true for me.

The plot skips around in time, so if that bugs you, beware; it makes sense to the plot so it’s worth going with the flow. The ending had me in tears.

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