I was very excited to learn that one of my favorite authors, Michael Strelow, was coming out with a new book. I had absolutely loved The Greening of Ben Brown, and hoped that his next novel would be as quirky and engaging as his first. I was not disappointed.
Henry: A novel of Beer and Love in the West, is the story of Henry Weinhard, brewer and entrepreneur in the Wild West of Portland. It’s loosely based around the real brewer’s life, but this novel takes us on a whirlwind tour of his life, as told from Henry’s perspective as though he’s rambling on about his life to his grandchildren towards the end of his life. Maybe not his grandchildren, there’s too many lady’s of misfortune for that. But his drinking buddies for sure.
I worried when I first picked up the book that I was going to inundated by the minutia of beer making and the business that entails, but it was just a delightful background to a thoroughly fascinating story. This man apprentices to a brewer in Germany, then makes his way to America and then works his way out to the farthest reaches where they still needed a decent German brewer to make something other than piss-water for the soldiers and lumberjacks. It was then only a natural extension to his business to acquire several pubs, and once he had those to stock the upstairs with slightly more delicate wares. It is a beautiful story of his life, including his love for a woman of poor repute while still carrying on his professional life and marriage.
There is a lot of talk about myths and tales, both those from his homeland and his new land, focusing specifically on the tales of Joshua, man of mystery in the west. There is a lot of philosophizing on staying true to his German heritage while at the same time using it to his advantage. The language of his love is beautiful and stark, showing just how much he truly cared for the woman. He is a complex man, and his is a compelling story.
As for the writing style, I urge people to have just a bit of patience with it. I was used to the round about storytelling style from Strelow’s first novel where its a deliberate choice to fracture the character’s world at the very beginning after his accident. Here, its a much softer swirling of consciousness that ultimately coalesces into a heart breaking series of events. It may seem that his philosophizing or stories about Joshua are tangents, when in fact they are simply the interior support beams for a rather satisfying and emotional climax.
So, if you enjoy excellent writing in a historical fiction setting, this is definitely a novel worth checking out.