Hometown Brew

Ellen Akins, Author
Ellen Akins, Author Alfred A. Knopf $22 (224p) ISBN 978-0-679-44795-5
Hardcover - 978-0-517-46350-5
Open Ebook - 143 pages - 978-0-307-83215-3
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-27397-9
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Though the struggle between Wisconsin siblings Melissa and Frank Johnson for control of their family brewery should be at the center of this overflowing novel, a subplot about their employee Alice Reinhart, who posed at 17 for ""pictures that made their way into a men's magazine,"" threatens from the first sentence to overwhelm the tale. Another subplot, involving the mixed legacy of the Johnsons' father (controlling even from beyond the grave), comes tantalizingly into view, but this novel is so overripe with ideas and relationships that the plot bogs down in complications. The narrative begins when Melissa's illegitimate son, Jesse, is 11 and Frank Sr. is dying after suffering a stroke at the home of one of Melissa's friends, having enjoyed a brief romance, or spasm of territorial imperative, with his son's fiancee. Although it sounds in summary like soap opera, the novel hums with complex questions about the sexual and professional initiations of Melissa and Alice, the brutal humiliation of Frank Jr. by his father and the ensuing sibling struggle for control of the brewery. Akins (Public Life) has more than one interesting tale to tell but seems to have been unable to decide which one should dominate. The result is a book with a lot of head on it: rich, murky and not quite easy to swallow. (June)
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