BOOK: The Tender Bar
AUTHOR: J.R. Moehringer
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2006
Two years back, I gave away copies of The Tender Bar for World Book Night U.S.
Sadly, there is no longer a World Book Night U.S. organization, due to a lack of funding (it’s still around in the U.K. and Ireland, run by a group called the Reading Agency), but back then, I was a volunteer, and a half million free books were handed out across America on the evening of April 23, 2013. The idea was to put books in the hands of non-readers, so thousands of us set forth that night to hospitals, bus stations, prisons, waiting rooms in train stations, and so on. And I headed out to an Irish pub in midtown Manhattan, which seemed like an appropriate venue for this memoir.
Long ago, I read, in a chapter called “Irish Families” by Monica McGoldrick, in a book about psychiatry called Ethnicity and Family Therapy, a description of Irish Americans and alcohol, as follows:
“…alcohol has been their universal disqualifier and solution: It dulls the pain, keeps out the cold, cures the fever, eases the grief, enlivens the celebration, allows them all manner of expression, and even cures a hangover—‘a hair of the dog that bit you’…As one group of researchers put it: ‘It is remarkable that the Irish can find an outlet for so many forms of psychic conflict in this single form of escape.’”
That passage came to mind while reading this coming of age story about a fatherless boy with a dysfunctional home life, who found a surrogate family at the local bar, along with camaraderie, affection, advice, empathy, and above all, romance.
He romanticized the place, Publicans, in Manhasset, Long Island. And it did give him an awful lot: friendship, writing material, an education in life and masculinity, a refuge from his troubles. It was a doomed love affair, though, as it eventually cost him an awful lot: his ambitions, his drive, his college girlfriend, his independence, his promise. And when it was finally time to go, he left.
Moehringer’s a gifted writer; the place and its people come alive on the page. Even when he’d become unhealthy and self-destructive, he had a generous and open affection for his home away from home. Clear-eyed about social class, heartbreaks, betrayals, broken homes, dreams indefinitely deferred, and his own mistakes and near-ruination, he manages to find both humor and wisdom in the most unlikely of places.
I didn’t give out my name or e-mail address the night I was handing out copies at the bar, so I have no way of knowing if anyone read and enjoyed them, or if they were tossed in the trash on the way out. But I like to think that at least a few of those books found their way to readers who could appreciate both the culture of the pub and the writing life that examined it and ultimately found it wanting.
RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 3.5 Whistles
HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon
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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.
Laura can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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