Detroit’s decadeslong public death spiral mirrors the steady dissolution of one of the city’s most prominent clans: the Stroh family of brewers.
Stroh, the golden-haired scion of the once-mighty Midwestern beer kings, remembers growing up under the shadow of material wealth and familial conspicuousness. Uneasy with both the brood and the money, the author sensed early on that not everything was as it seemed to be inside their tony enclave of Grosse Pointe: not the family’s beer empire that, for a time, kept the money coming in and certainly not the alcoholic father who appeared more enamored with his vintage collection of guitars and guns than his children. “Once he’d come into my room while I was writing a paper and had slapped me across the face for no apparent reason,” writes the author. “Later, he’d come back in, crying and apologizing. He was just drunk, he said.” The anxiety that Eric Stroh, frustrated photographer and reluctant beer baron—along with an equally disconnected mother—instilled in the Stroh children portends disaster as assuredly as the decades of economic malfeasance that led to Detroit’s fall. Frances, who still managed to distinguish herself as a Fulbright scholar, writes candidly and insightfully about the growing solicitude that grew inside her throughout her life. The assortment of family portraits displaying the dichotomy of smiling faces and secret hurts echoes that suffering in haunting fashion; her brother’s tragic trajectory is particularly disquieting and sad. “I was finding that gaining perspective on false constructs was a far simpler feat in art than in life itself,” writes Stroh. “In life, the false constructs themselves tended to take over.” In the family’s comfortable world, the outward appearance of abundance only masked the unsettling truth that unconditional love, much like money, sometimes comes in limited supply. The author’s family might have successfully burned through a massive fortune, but they squandered a lot more than that.
A sorrowful, eye-opening examination of familial dysfunction.