Thursday, October 12, 2006


The Tender Bar, J R Moehringer, Hyperion, 2005, 368 pp
I saw this author last spring at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, speaking on a panel about memoirs, and he completely charmed me. He is tres good-looking, but also funny and a natural-born storyteller (he is Irish after all.)

JR grew up with a mother, aunts, a grandmother and plenty of female cousins. His father was absent, his grandfather was weird, his uncle was a gambler and a drinker, his one male cousin was his best friend. At the age of eight, he felt so responsible for his mother that he spent most of his time worrying about her. That really got me because I was divorced when my older son was six years old and by the time he was eight he had that same worried mind. His shoulders even began to sag, as if he had the weight of the world on them.

When JR was eleven, the uncle took an interest and started bringing him along whenever he went to hang out with his buddies; all hard-drinking, joke-cracking, eccentric guys from JR's hometown of Manhasset, Long Island. (This is the town across the bay in The Great Gatsby.) Uncle Charlie spent a good part of any given 24 hour period in a local bar. He eventually became a bartender there. So JR went to the bar daily and there he learned how to be a guy. He loved it and the men were good to him, but yes, he had a drinking problem by the time he went to college.

The memoir is all of that story plus how JR became a writer, got sober and grew up. It is one of the best stories I've read on how a boy developed self-esteem when he had little reason to have any. It is dark, sad, troubling and also hilarious, uplifting and emotionally satisfying. I'm so glad I read it.

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