Hometown Brew

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A rich novel of family rivalries, corporate maneuvers, and sexual intrigue–set in a small Wisconsin beer town.

In the background: a small, family-run brewery, Gutenbier, whose backward business practices have been miraculously transformed into an asset by the new vogue for microbreweries and designer beverages.

At the center: two women whose world is the brewery: Melissa Johnson, is the heiress to Gutenbier, and Alice Reinhart works there. On her father’s death, Melissa inherits the chairmanship everyone expected to go to her brother and finds herself resented by both workers and management. Alice, returning from New York and a bad marriage, takes up her job in the brewery only to discover that an indiscretion she committed at seventeen has surfaced and has made her the object of a series of seemingly innocent pranks that slowly reveal a darker intent. As these two women fight the forces arrayed against them and the novel moves toward its climax, the business, the politics–the life–of a small town are compellingly portrayed.

“Akins’ work has been called ‘a kind of extended meditation on the dialectic of stripping and covering up. . .’ That is an apt description of her latest offering. . . . One wouldn’t want to have missed the journey of this novel that, with all its contradictions and complexities, reflects a burgeoning talent well on its way to full power.”
—Cooke, Fort Worth Star Telegram

“If ‘Hometown Brew’ were a beer, it would be dark, dense and malty–the kind to sip and savor the complex flavors. Bottled, not canned. And definitely not light. Ellen Akins has written an ambitious novel, about many things–the duality of sibling love and rivalry, corporate power games and sexual politics. In examining the ways that people use each other, the author also offers a redemptive vision of humanity. . . Tense and taut, ‘Hometown Brew’ never loses momentum. From the outset, the reader senses something sinister about Frank, as Alice and Melissa are sucked into a disastrous course of events. It’s nerve-wracking–like watching a Hitchcock film, knowing who the bad guy is. There are surprising plot turns along the way, as well as astute observations about the implications of using sex to sell everything from cars to beer to hamburgers.”
—Colleen Kelly Warren, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Family politics rage in Ellen Akins’s novel ‘Hometown Brew’ . . . But class and sexual politics also surface when Frank becomes involved with Alice Reinhart, a blue-collar striver with a shady past who has taken a job at the brewery. Add company politics to the mix after Alice’s male co-workers start to harass her. These swirling waters are parted when the plot, suddenly bearing straight ahead, drives to a climactic rape at the plant — which gives a paradoxical boost to Gutenbier’s sales. In the wake of the violence, Akins slows down again to reflect on its causes, and on the ways in which men and women remain unknowable to each other.”
—Julie Gray, New York Times

“This surprising novel doesn’t announce itself as feminist in theme and purpose. But slowly and subtly it becomes clear that is what Akins has in mind. Set in a beer-brewing town in Wisconsin where men are men and women are supposed to be women, the novel focuses on two women and the unpleasant discoveries they are forced to. . . . Both plots move forward following a slow and sinister plan that is not evident until it is fully hatched. Once hatched, it is horrible. “Hometown Brew” leaves an unusually powerful aftertaste.”
—Barbara Fisher, Boston Globe

“Akins’ prose can be stirring, analytic and precise . . . [She] has keen insight that it often unfurled in gorgeous sentences.”
—Michele Wucker, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“‘Hometown Brew’ is not merely a meditation on one family’s struggle for survival and simplicity in an increasingly complicated and calculating world. Akins, as displayed in her five previous novels, is a writer concerned with ambitious ideas and the larger themes of life. In ‘Hometown Brew’ the setting may be small and the stakes, well, beer, but the true story lies not in surface concerns but in the dark themes–family loyalty versus survival, notions of sexual harassment, big business versus mom-and-pop America, the fine line between duty and love–bubbling just beneath.”
—Liesel Litzenburger, Detroit Free Press