THE TENDER BAR

A Memoir

J R Moehringer

A moving, vividly told memoir full of heart, drama, and exquisite comic timing, about a boy striving to become a man, and his romance with a bar.

J.R. Moehringer grew up listening for a voice: It was the sound of his missing father, a disc jockey who disappeared before J.R. spoke his first words. As a boy, J.R. would press his ear to a clock radio, straining to hear in that resonant voice the secrets of masculinity, and the keys to his own identity. J.R.’s mother was his world, his anchor, but he needed something else, something he couldn’t name.

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A moving, vividly told memoir full of heart, drama, and exquisite comic timing, about a boy striving to become a man, and his romance with a bar.

J.R. Moehringer grew up listening for a voice: It was the sound of his missing father, a disc jockey who disappeared before J.R. spoke his first words. As a boy, J.R. would press his ear to a clock radio, straining to hear in that resonant voice the secrets of masculinity, and the keys to his own identity. J.R.’s mother was his world, his anchor, but he needed something else, something he couldn’t name. So he turned to the bar on the corner, a grand old New York saloon that was a sanctuary for all types of men—cops and poets, actors and lawyers, gamblers and stumblebums. The flamboyant characters along the bar taught J.R., tended him, and provided a kind of fatherhood by committee. Through it all, the bar offered shelter from failure, from rejection, and eventually from reality—until at last the bar turned J.R. away.

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  • Hachette
  • Paperback
  • July 2006
  • 413 Pages
  • 9780786888764

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$14.95

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About J R Moehringer

J.R. Moehringer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2000, is a national correspondent for The Los Angeles Times and a former Niemann Fellow at Harvard University. He lives in Denver, Colorado.

Praise

“‘Kid’s a scribbler,’ one of the regulars [at the bar] says of Moehringer, in what turns out to be a whopper of an understatement. Kid’s the best memoirist of his kind since Mary Karr wrote The Liar’s Club. Kid’s book is a doozy.” –Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Powerful storytelling at its true story best. It’s a life-changing work about a changed life, a gentle giant not to be missed.” –Denver Post

The Tender Bar isn’t a book about sobering up, it’s about growing up. The genuine tension in the story lies in the distance between who young J.R. Moehringer was and who he wanted to be. As the distance shrinks, you’ll want to cheer. But the cheer will die in your throat after you realize that once the gap has narrowed all the way, the story will be over. The only thing wrong with this terrific debut is that there has to be a closing time.” –Malcolm Jones, Newsweek

Discussion Questions

J.R. has a difficult childhood, but there are also many positive elements. Compare Moehringer’s portrait of childhood to other memoirs you’ve read.

There are various portrayals of “good” and “bad” men in the memoir. What are the different definitions of goodness in men?

In what ways is alcohol both a positive and a negative factor in the lives of the various characters?

Do you think J.R.’s mother’s experiences are representative of the struggles of many single mothers? Do you think she is a strong character? Did you admire her, or empathize with her?

Did you find J.R.’s grandmother a sympathetic character? Did her dilemma feel familiar to you?

J.R.’s grandfather is cruel most of the time, but he has occasional moments of greatness, such as at J.R.’s school breakfast. What do you think motivated J.R.’s grandfather? Did you find him likable?

J.R. grows up without a present father. How do you think his search for a masculine identity compares to that of men who grew up with fathers—good or bad—which were more present in their lives?

The men along the bar are depicted warts and all—did you consider them positive role models? Which of the men was most appealing to you, and why?

J.R. notices that the men in the bar have conflicting attitudes toward success in other men. What does this stem from? Was it familiar to you?

Consider the importance of sports in men’s lives and relationships with each other.

In what ways do characters and circumstances in The Tender Bar resemble that of The Great Gatsby, particularly with respect to class and aspiration?

In what ways was J.R.’s enormous ambition a positive element in his life, and in what ways was it the source of pain? Is this inevitable?

Did you find Sidney sympathetic?

How does the way the events of the epilogue tied together the themes of the memoir? Did you feel resolution? Did you think J.R. had changed?

Did you see yourself and any of your own experiences as a parent, child, man or woman in the memoir?