I’m mid-way through Beer Money by Frances Stroh. It is a memoir about the extreme dysfunction of the Stroh family. I picked it up because it was Michigan-based and because I’m very familiar with the Stroh brand (shall we say). I can still remember the ads in the Detroit Tigers program with a can of Stroh’s in a baseball mitt. “Stroh it home” it said. Fire-brewed! I remember.
Anyway, I usually don’t read books about dysfunctional rich families. OK. I don’t usually read stories about sad dysfunctional rich families. Funny and mocking and even cruel stories about hypocritical rich people are a guilty pleasure…Primates of the Upper East Side, I’m looking at you.
Even so, the first half of the book has been very good. It is sad but human at the same time. The family’s dysfunction is intertwined with a dying family business, and dying in the way you can see coming but can’t seem to do anything about.
Just now I am starting to wonder how we are going to get 150 more pages out of this story. Between the divorces and the rehabs and the young second wife and closing the brewery and moving it somewhere else, I am starting to feel like I am at the end, not in the middle.
One of the things that’s really interesting is that if you follow popular culture today, you hear a lot of about drug abuse and broken family dynamics and when those things happen they tend to be portrayed as urban or hillbilly problems. This is a reminder that they happen in all kinds of families. We tend to think they shouldn’t, but we shouldn’t think that any more than we should think that dysfunction is normative in poor and underprivileged families.
And here’s the other thing. The Stroh family had the resources to deal with their problems, to fund multiple rehab visits and paper over underemployment and pay for multiple boarding schools. But their money could not bail them out. In the end, you have to go commit to rehab, work hard at your marriage, follow the rules at boarding school. Your solution is in you, and that’s true of everyone.
One last good thing. There’s often a big issue with memoirs of famous people, which is that the person doing the memoir is a dope. That’s not true here. Frances Stroh is an artist and an intelligent woman who understands what happened in her life as part of a larger narrative that begins with human frailty and not outside events.
More to come as I finish the book.