The Tender Bar: A Book Review

The Tender Bar: A Book ReviewFinding an excellent Coming-of-Age novel can be a hard task and reading a book usually takes much longer than viewing a film.  Which is why, despite my best intentions to cover the Coming-of-Age genre in all areas of the arts, theSkykid.com’s book section has not been updated for a while.

That being said, I am often fortunate that when I choose a title to read, the story quite often grabs me and, as result, I can’t wait to share my impressions of it with the readers of TheSkyKid.com. I pick books that tell stories about growing up, Coming-of-Age and books in which the protagonist is invariably male. That gender decision has to do with the fact that I am much more likely to identify with a male character (being a male myself) and I consider character identification one of the most important benefits of a book.

When I selected The Tender Bar by J.R Moehringer, I didn’t know what to expect. I was drawn by the cover image, which portrayed a young boy peeking curiously from behind a bar counter. I knew the book was written as a memoir so, therefore, I expected the story to be told in the first person. And I was not disappointed.

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The action takes place in the town of Manhasset, on Long Island in New York — a “hard-drinking town”, as the author describes it. And in that place, the young boy J.R., forms an intriguing relationship – one not commonly associated with the proper relationships that society imposes on youth – a relationship with a bar room (tavern) and the men who frequented it.

An only child abandoned by his father, J.R. needed guidance on his way to manhood — a model to follow…

 “… I needed men as mentors, heroes, role models, and as a kind of masculine counterweight to my mother, grandmother, aunt….” 

The bar is filled with colorful characters that amuse the boy, who was initially sent to it to get cigarettes for his uncle Charlie.

 “At eight years old I began to dream of going to Dickens as other boys dream of visiting Disneyland.“

But despite the on-going presence of the bar in J.R’s life, he doesn’t spend his entire time there:

“..I went into the world, worked and failed, played the fool, had my heard broken and my threshold tested…“

And those voyages are what the book is really about – voyages representing the Coming-of-Age experiences of the author. He leads the reader through the story of his childhood years, through his time as a teen and in college, and then through the trials and tribulations of early adulthood.  An engaging story filled with wisdom and funny passages — it will not only make you smile, but will bring back a lot of your childhood memories.

Most of us have special places that we identify with our childhoods.  For me one of those places is the house of my grandparents, where I used to spend warm summer days swimming in the river and playing in the nearby hills.

Having a bar room as a memory anchor seems, at first, quite unusual and intriguing, but before you dismiss such a possibility the author informs us:

Had I grown up beside a river or an ocean, some natural avenue of self-discovery, I might have mythologized it. Instead I grew up 142 steps from a glorious old American tavern, and that has made all the difference.

James Michael Tyler interviews Pulitzer prize-winning journalist J.P. Moehringer author of The Tender Bar

The Tender Bar offers an immense account of interpersonal relationships as the young J.R. explores the world around him.  He receives a lot of advice, makes mistakes and learns from them, and thus shapes his personality while simultaneously exposing the reader to what I believe to be invaluable lessons about life.

“You must do everything that frightens you, J.R., everything. I am not talking about risking your life, but everything else.“

I was able to find a lot of similarities between the J.R. experiences and my own — especially in regard to his relation with girls/women, his college days and his struggle to justify the years spent in preparing himself for a bright future.  But even if you are not able to relate to J.R.’s experiences, you are guaranteed to appreciate the skillful way in which they are told, his tasteful humor and self-irony.

The memoir of J.R. Moehringer is a prime example of an excellent Coming-of-Age novel — a classic Bildungsroman – in which the goal is maturity and in which the protagonist achieves it gradually and with difficulty. It has a potential to appeal to a wide age range of readers from teenagers to elders and delivers hours of unforgettable reading experiences.

Highly recommended!

The Tender Bar: A Memoir at Amazon.com

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