Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Tender Bar all a memoir should be

89. The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer. Memoir, 10-7, pp. 368

A book recommendation from a friend or co-worker can be a perilous thing. Perhaps you do not like the book. Perhaps you are revolted by it. And what can you say? It was OK. I didn’t like it. It was . . . interesting. I didn’t share your enthusiasm.

But there are other times when the recommender has carefully considered the book and the reader and the match is, well, one made in book heaven. That was the case with J.R. Moehringer’s The Tender Bar. It is all you hope a memoir to be – warm, insightful and instructive with passages that are laugh-out-loud funny.

The book was recommended to me by a Beth Finkel, a colleague of many years. The first time I met Beth we talked books. I’m not sure what started the discussion but I was reading something by Frederick Busch at the time and Beth was familiar with his novel, Girls. That impressed me. Beth knew (knows) her stuff. Since that time we’ve traded lots of book recommendations.

None have been better, by either party, than Beth’s recommendation of The Tender Bar. Set in Manhasset, New Jersey, it is Moehringer’s account of how one neighborhood bar, which loomed large in his imagination as a child, and the men who inhabited it became an important part of his life. Moehringer’s father was absent from his life—a distant voice on the radio—and men in the bar, including his uncle who was a bartender there, filled a role as surrogate fathers and masculine role models.

The one disturbing aspect to the book is the quantity of alcohol the men, including Moehringer, consume. It’s clear that alcohol is used as an escape for just about everyone who inhabits the bar, again, including the author. It’s reassuring, then, to learn that Moehringer no longer drinks.

That concern aside, The Tender Bar is a captivating memoir. Moehringer is a talented writer (a journalist, he won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writer) who brings the characters to life and vividly recaptures his childhood, adolescence and angst-ridden early twenties.

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