By Jay Brooks
Wednesday, May 27th, 2009 at 7:14 pm in On Beer.
As a beer writer, it isn’t often I have the opportunity to review a novel. Sadly, there are just too few works of fiction whose main plot points involve beer. More’s the pity. But along comes novelist Tom Robbins to add to the sub genre I’m about to invent, which I suppose I’ll call “beer fiction.” Robbins is the author of such popular works as “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” and “Still Life with Woodpecker.”
His newest novel, a novella really at 125 pages, is entitled “B Is for Beer.” Subtitled “A Children’s Book for Grown-Ups” and “A Grown-Up Book for Children,” it’s the story of a 5-year old girl named Gracie Perkel and her quest to find out the meaning of beer. After a dismal 6th birthday party, she downs a can of beer from her parents’ refrigerator, throws up on the pink carpet in her bedroom and is then visited by the “Beer Fairy.” The Beer Fairy takes her through the seam from this world to another to show her how beer is made and reveal its meaning.
If you’re the sort of person who thinks beer and a young girl should never be mentioned in the same sentence, then don’t read it. But for the open-minded, the book is never vulgar and oddly sweet. Uncle Moe means well when he offers to take Gracie on a tour of the Redhook Brewery (they live in Seattle) but he can’t keep his word, nor, in fact, can any of the adults in Gracie’s world. I’ve never been a huge fan of Robbins’ novels. I thought “Still Life with Woodpecker” was alright and never finished “Even Cowboys Get the Blues.” He always reminded me a bit of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., but without the profundity. More whimsical than wise. But “B Is for Beer” is a breeze to read (I finished it over the holiday weekend) and is intriguing enough to keep you turning the page.
It’s laced with references for the beer lover, though I disagree with his assertion that the Egyptians invented beer. He later acknowledges that many people, myself included, believe it was more likely the Sumerians, but he says that while in Sumeria they did “ferment a kind of grain drink, but that it would be stretching the point to actually call the slop beer.” The inference seems to be that in Egypt we’d recognize their fermented grain differently, more modernly as what we think of as beer, yet in my reading it wasn’t much different, if at all, than what the Sumerians made. But that’s a small quibble in a mostly fun read.
If you’re a beer lover or know one, “B Is for Beer” will make a great book to take to the beach or on your vacation this year. If you read even at a moderate pace you’ll probably be able to finish it on a cross-country flight or shorter. And you’ll discover the meaning of beer for your trouble.