Book Review: “The Tender Bar” by J.R. Moehringer

This critically acclaimed memoir has been on my “to read” pile for years.  The recent news that George Clooney is directing an Oscar-bait adaptation starring Ben Affleck made me finally crack it open.  I devoured it, and I’m truly sad that I didn’t get to it earlier.

At its core, this is a story about a fatherless boy seeking something he feels he’s missing.  JR’s mother is an incredible advocate for her son.  As many such stories go, she works hard to give JR a good life. The bond between mother and son is beautiful.  The extended family with which they live is a vibrant cast of characters – some sane, some cruel, some strong, and some tragically flawed.  One summer, JR’s mom asks her brother, who tends bar at a popular watering hole, to keep an eye on her son.  What begins as a tag-along trip to the beach for a 12-year-old with his uncle’s friends morphs into evenings at the bar as everyone gets to work.  JR immediately connects with these men; they acknowledge him in a way that he craves.  His education at the edge of the tender bar shapes much of his life’s journey.

Any story that features a bar as a major character and role model is going to include some heartache.  JR’s maturation from tween to Ivy-League student to young professional is anchored at the bar.  His concept of manliness and self-worth is so tightly tied to the welcome he receives at the bar that it inevitably impacts relationships and professional prospects.  Yet JR’s story doesn’t moralize about the pitfalls of his lifestyle.  In this memoir, life experiences are formative without judgement. 

If you haven’t already caught this coming of age story, it’s a worthwhile read.  If you prefer to read the book before seeing the movie, check this one out.  I suspect we’ll be hearing more about this film in the near future.  Now’s your chance to be “in the know!”

Review by Development Director Emily Read.

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