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The Tender Bar: A Memoir Hardcover – Bargain Price, August 31, 2005
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"Long before it legally served me, the bar saved me," asserts J.R. Moehringer, and his compelling memoir The Tender Bar is the story of how and why. A Pulitzer-Prize winning writer for the Los Angeles Times, Moehringer grew up fatherless in pub-heavy Manhasset, New York, in a ramshackle house crammed with cousins and ruled by an eccentric, unkind grandfather. Desperate for a paternal figure, he turns first to his father, a DJ whom he can only access via the radio (Moehringer calls him The Voice and pictures him as "talking smoke"). When The Voice suddenly disappears from the airwaves, Moehringer turns to his hairless Uncle Charlie, and subsequently, Uncle Charlie's place of employment--a bar called Dickens that soon takes center stage. While Moehringer may occasionally resort to an overwrought metaphor (the footsteps of his family sound like "storm troopers on stilts"), his writing moves at a quick clip and his tale of a dysfunctional but tightly knit community is warmly told. "While I fear that we're drawn to what abandons us, and to what seems most likely to abandon us, in the end I believe we're defined by what embraces us," Moehringer says, and his story makes us believe it. --Brangien Davis
From Publishers Weekly
[Signature]Reviewed by Terry GolwayYou needn't be a writer to appreciate the romance of the corner tavern—or, for that matter, of the local dive in a suburban strip mall. But perhaps it does take a writer to explain the appeal of these places that ought to offend us on any number of levels—they often smell bad, the decor generally is best viewed through bloodshot eyes and, by night's end, they usually do not offer an uplifting vision of the human condition.Ah, but what would we do without them, and what would we do without the companionship of fellow pilgrims whose journey through life requires the assistance of a drop or two?J.R. Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize–winning writer for the Los Angeles Times, has written a memoir that explains it all, and then some. The Tender Bar is the story of a young man who knows his father only as "The Voice," of a single mother struggling to make a better life for her son, and of a riotously dysfunctional family from Long Island. But more than anything else, Moehringer's book is a homage to the culture of the local pub. That's where young J.R. seeks out the companionship of male role models in place of his absent father, where he receives an education that has served him well in his career and where, inevitably, he looks for love, bemoans its absence and mourns its loss.Moehringer grew up in Manhasset, a place, he writes, that "believed in booze." At a young age, he became a regular—not a drinker, of course, for he was far too young. But while still tender of years, he was introduced to the culture, to the companionship and—yes—to the romance of it all. "Everyone has a holy place, a refuge, where their heart is purer, their mind clearer, where they feel close to God or love or truth or whatever it is they happen to worship," he writes. For young J.R., that place was a gin mill on Plandome Road where his Uncle Charlie was a bartender and a patron.The Tender Bar's emotional climax comes after its native son has found success as a journalist for the Los Angeles Times. On September 11, 2001, almost 50 souls who lived and loved in Moehringer's home town of Manhasset were killed in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. One was a bartender we've met along the way. Another was one of the author's cousins.Moehringer drove from Denver, where he was based as a correspondent for the Times, to New York to mourn and comfort old friends. He describes his cousin's mother, Charlene Byrne, as she grieved: "Charlene was crying, the kind of crying I could tell would last for years."And so it has, in Manhasset and so many other Long Island commuter towns. Moehringer's lovely evocation of an ordinary place filled with ordinary people gives dignity and meaning to those lost lives, and to his own.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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The writing is my favorite part of this book. Moehringer's command of the English language is unmatchable by most authors. He kept me up late as I turned the pages, waiting to hear the ending of his first sexual conquest. His wide use of vocabulary kept me thinking and wanting to learn more. Finally, his ability to paint characters including his comical uncle Charley made my sides hurt as I laughed.
Read this book. It is fantastic. J.R. has had an incredible life that anyone should be able to connect with on some level. It changed my life for the better, and I loved every minute of it.
Even before Publicans becomes a fixture in his own life, young, anxiety-ridden J.R. lives in the ramshackle world that results from his family’s lifestyle of libations. He and his mother repeatedly move in and out of his grandparents’ overpopulated, chaotic house, which is decaying from abject neglect. In fact, neglect is a recurring characteristic of the men in J.R.’s family. His father is a deadbeat disk-jockey, whom J.R. knows only by his on-air voice. His grandfather is an emotional batterer, and his uncle is an alcoholic and gambling addict. But as a strange counterpart to the abuses, the family is also proficient in sacrificial love. The innate literary talent among them is the unexpected cherry on top.
As J.R. grows, the men of Publicans become his surrogate fathers, and he loves them arguably more than he ought. His relationship with them morphs into a relationship with the bar itself, and his relationship with the bar becomes the linchpin of his life, profoundly directing the course of his education, his career, and, most sentimentally, his fate with Sidney, his movie-star gorgeous, heart-breaking, man-eating girlfriend.
Moehringer’s treatment of the barfly lifestyle is respectful and sensitive. He portrays the sweeping diversity, surprising comradery, and occasional combat among the customers with lavish heart and color. But it’s simultaneously depressing to watch these lovely humans sink into such destructive dependency. It’s an existential dilemma. The relationships are priceless, but the repercussions are exorbitant.
While the story starts with great hope for a bright, sensitive, underdog kid, it spirals downward into the depressing depths of addiction. But J.R. finally wields his incredible gift with words to recover from a bad turn ⎼ well, several bad turns ⎼ and the story ends optimistically. You’ll close the back cover with a good feeling for his future and a great fondness for his writing.
(Check out my other reviews at [...].)
He fills this book with characters who are interesting enough but once you get to know them, he repeats their appeal
throughout the book which is boring. The end is predictable but that was ok. Just to tedious to read.