Book Review: The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer February 2, 2015
I read “Sutton” by J.R. Moehringer a while back. It was one of those books that just showed up in my house one day and knocked around until I read it. I don’t remember how I got it. It was the fictionalized story of the bank robber Willie Sutton, and while the plot didn’t interest me terribly, I was captivated by Moehringer’s writing. I mentioned this to my friend Melanie, who is the kind of person whose day can be made by the discovery of a well-turned phrase, and all I got out was, “J.R. M-something” before she started raving about “The Tender Bar,” which she insisted was the best memoir she’d ever read. I put it on my to-read list.
And now I’ve read it. Much like “Sutton”, if you require a fast moving plot, you won’t get one here. But also like “Sutton,” the writing is supremely gorgeous. The ideas are thought provoking. This coming of age story is not exactly a feel good story, and it ends before Moehringer’s success, which you know about only because you are reading the book and you’ve read the bio on the back. It is the story of a boy whose father is absent and treats him horribly, who lives on and off with his grandparents, and who finds his role models for manhood in a neighborhood bar. Frankly, the way he describes the bar, I’d probably spend a lot of time there, too, if I could stand the smell of cigarette smoke. It is a story of nearly-unrealized potential, of abandonment, of the need boys have for reliable men, of the sacrifices and choices mothers have to make.
But forget about the story. Really. Forget about it. That’s not why you read this book. You read it because Moehringer’s prose is so liquid and golden. A few samples of my favorite lines:
- “Though she was mysterious by nature, some of my mother’s mystery was by design. The most honest person I’ve ever known, she was a beautiful liar.”
- “But Grandma told me that Uncle Charlie hated the sight of himself, that he recoiled from every mirror as if it were a loaded gun.”
- “He’d squandered his talent, blown through his money, and was at the start of a long decline. He told story after story, a Scheherazade in dark shades and a leather jacket, and I said nothing.”
- “I felt his gaze connect as if he’d hurled a baseball across the terminal and hit me in the middle of the forehead. He strode toward me and I took a step back, thinking he might strike me, but he folded me carefully into a hug, as though I were breakable, which I was….I was hugging The Voice. I’d forgotten that my father was flesh and bone. Over time I’d grouped him with all my imaginary fathers, and now, struggling to reach around his shoulders, I felt as if I were hugging Baloo or Bagheera.”
I could give more examples, but I’d rather you find them on your own.
To do that, buy the book by clicking the link below.
Lori B. Duff is an award-winning author who practices law on the side. Her latest book, “If You Did What I Asked in the First Place” was awarded the Gold Medal for humor in the Foreword INDIES awards in 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here. If you want Lori to help you market your book, click here.
Book Review: The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer