The Tender Bar by J.R.Moehringer

The modern approach to the genre of memoir has become a strange examination on the fragility of the genre itself. So many voices vying for a space on the shelf while so many other voices are ignored or pushed out. On the surface of Moehringer’s The Tender Bar, we have yet another average American male’s story of how he overcame a fatherless upbringing to attend college, find a career, and find himself. Oh, and there’s alcoholism and substance abuse, too, which would be one more reason to dismiss this piece. But there is something to be said about Moehringer’s strange, humorous book. It feels fresh, inviting, and holds a mirror up to a generation of young men whose direction comes from a mélange of directionless people. We’ve had to navigate a world where one’s own philosophy is built on a foundation of one’s own construction, cobbled together from the village that fostered us into either successes or failures… and we witness peers in different circumstances squander the opportunities they had to turn out much different.

Moehringer’s villiage in particular, however, is the colorful cast of characters at a bar on the north shore of Long Island. 

There was a lot to like about this book, and I think I gained the most from its wandering tone that made the whole thing feel relatively similar to my own experience. Moehringer’s strength is in his approach to creating a global thematic approach to his story that breeds familiarity, even though I didn’t experience it and that I felt more reflected a version of the life I lived closer to the life I wanted. Where he had his summer job at the bookstore with his two mentors, I had a fatherly professor in college that stuck around years later until his death. Where he had Publicans, I had a private social club that I can only say I started attending when I reached my majority. Where he had his father, I had mine. But Moehringer weaves his personal life with a beauty, comedy, and a darkness just as stark as his optimism, and I think we can all relate to what he brings in this memoir. 

In the end, when we are reminded of his growth through sobriety and grief and that ‘drinking is the only thing you don’t get better at the more you do it,’ and ‘drinking and trying felt like opposite impulses, that when I stopped the one I automatically started the other,’ we are reminded that it is through some big life changes that his adept storytelling is no surprise. He was a newspaperman who developed professionally and emotionally only when there was no Publicans to go back to… and we have been given this gift as a result of it.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr and ‘kid toro,’ licensed under Creative Commons)

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