Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Book About a Bar

As I mentioned in my first post of 2011, I have been intending to write more posts about books that I have read. Since I just finished at this very moment a book that I thought was really great, I figure it is a great time to get back to posting about books. The book in question is The Tender Bar which a memoir by journalist J. R. Moehringer. It recounts Moehringer's youth and early adult life. He grew up in Manhasset, New York with his mother. The town is on Long Island and is best known as part of the setting for the book The Great Gatsby. This book includes several references to The Great Gatsby, most of which I probably did not fully grasp since I have not read that particular book.

During the early part of the book, Moehringer and his mother live mainly with her parents. They move out on their own several times, only to end up moving back. The dilapidated house of his grandparents is also home to his mother's brother, Charlie, and frequently his mother's sister and her six children. Like he and his mother, his aunt and cousins also frequently move out of and then back into the house. Moehringer's father is largely absent, although he makes a few rare appearances throughout the book. Since his father works as a DJ, Moehringer grows up really only knowing his father as a voice (or the Voice) on the radio.

The book is populated by a variety of interesting characters. However, the star of the book as referenced by the title is not any of the actual people, but the corner bar and restaurant where most of the human characters congregate. At the start of the book, the pub is named Dickens after Charles Dickens. It is later renamed Publicans (after barkeeps and not tax collectors) and is reborn as Edison's in the epilogue. the author's Uncle Charlie is one of the pub's bartenders. As the book progresses, Moehringer gets to know and befriends the bar's owner, most of its employees, and many of its patrons.

The main theme of the book deals with Moehringer seeking out men to fill the void left by his missing father. The early parts of the book recount the misadventrues of his youth in Manhasset. Eventually, he and his mother leave New York and move to Arizona. Some of the stories about his teenage years in Arizona and summers back in Manhasset are painfully awkward. At the urging of his mother and two shopkeepers at the bookstore where he works, Moehringer applies to and is accepted at Yale. His time at Yale turns out to be as equally awkward as those of his younger years. He feels out of place among his fellow students who are mostly from the upper crusts of society. He eventually ends up playing lapdog to a beautiful co-ed. After she leaves him for someone that is more her social equal, he begins to spend most of his time drinking and reading as oppose to concentrating on his classes.

Somehow he manages to graduate from Yale, but he ends up back in Manhasset where he spending most of his time hanging out with the gang at Publicans. His continued misadventures include a stint in the housewares department at the local Lord & Taylor and his time as a copy boy with The New York Times. The main section of the book concludes with Moehringer moving out to Colorado to live with his cousin and a friend.

The book was published in 2005, so it is no surprise that the epilogue revolves around the author, who at that time was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, returning to his hometown shortly after September 11, 2001. I imagine writing about the New York area around that time would be difficult particularly for a native. The book has a generally depressed feel, so I thought tacking on the even more depressing epilogue risked a complete nose dive. However, I think Moehringer manages admirably to convey the strong emotions of that time without having the tone completely bottom out.

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