Sunday, July 1, 2007

A Wonderful Coming of Age Story

The Tender Bar by JR Moehringer (432 pgs, Hypernion) is the memoir of a an award-winning journalist. It is the first book that I read for the Non-Fiction Five challenge, and I can only hope the rest will be as good as this one!

Manhasset, on Long Island, was famous for a two things. One, it was the backdrop for F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Two, it was famous for it's bars. Plandome Road, the main drag in Manhasset, was wall-to-wall bars. But none made on impact on JR the way Dickens did. JR and his mother were living with his grandparents, and that was exactly 142 steps from Dickens. When JR was 9-months old, his mother left her husband and moved on. A single woman trying to raise her son and working 2 or 3 jobs at a time, Dorothy tried to make it on her own. But time and time again, Dorothy and JR ended up back in Manhasset with family. At any time, the house could be filled with cousins. But JR was content there. He would sit out on the stoop with his radio and listen for The Voice. The Voice was his father, a radio DJ that JR couldn't even remember. He even talked to The Voice, to this mother's dismay. And he worried about taking care of his mom.

Eventually, JR and his mother moved to Arizona. But every summer JR returned to Manhasett to live with his grandparents. When JR was in need of guidance, he turned to his Uncle Charley, a bartender at Dickens. Uncle Charley, along with some men from the bar, would take JR to the beach, Mets games, and eventually, into their circle. They raised him with love and compassion, these "fathers".

This book is filled with themes. Fatherless boy looking for a man in his life. Single mother trying to raise a son. Blue collar kid attending the Ivy league. Coming of Age. Trying to find yourself. And I could go on because this book is all of that and more. Beautifully written and heartbreaking at times, JR Moehringer tells the story of his life. The good AND the bad. He's very candid about his faults, probably more so than his amazing talents. I laughed and cried while reading this book. Maybe it appealed to me on some level because it's the story of a boy that loves his mother. And maybe it appealed to me because the characters in this book are real: full of faults and problems, just like me. But regardless of why, this book made me FEEL all kinds of emotions. And that is the makings of a great book!!

This is probably my favorite passage in the entire book:
I didn't want a ring. I told my mother about my aversion to men's jewelry, and I pointed out that Yale rings were expensive. She wouldn't listen. You must have a ring, she insisted. Fine, I said, send me the catalog. I'll order a ring. But I would pay for it myself, by working extra hours at the bookstore cafe.
Over dinner at Publicans my mother knew I hadn't kept my word, that the money for the ring had gone the way of the money for the name change. "You promised you were going to get a ring," she said in a disappointed voice.
"And I did."
From the breast pocket of my blazer I removed a velvet box and slid it across the table. She cracked the box open. Inside was a Yale ring. A woman's ring. I explained that Yale had been our dream, and our accomplishment. I told my mother that I couldn't have gotten into Yale without her, and certainly wouldn't have gotten through without her. "As far as I'm concerned," I said, "you graduated from Yale today too. And you should have some proof. Sparkling proof."
Her eyes welled with tears, and she tried to speak, but her voice caught in her throat.

See? Simplistic, but touching. I loved it!! 4.75/5


Literary Feline said...

I'm tearing up just from reading that passage, Stephanie. How thoughtful! This book does sound interesting. I'm adding it to my wish list. Great review!

Stephanie said...

Wendy - Let's just say that was one of the parts that had me crying!! Having a son, I think might have impacted the way I felt about this book. But then again, maybe not. It really WAS good!

Trish said...

Sounds great! I love books that can make you cry and laugh--for me that is what reading is all about--envoking those emotions.

Amy said...

I added this book to my TBR list a few months back but your review makes me even more eager to read it.

Great review! Thanks.

Dewey said...

Sounds pretty good, even though I'm not usually a fan of memoirs.

Nymeth said...

"But regardless of why, this book made me FEEL all kinds of emotions. And that is the makings of a great book!!"

I definitely agree.

I keep thinking I must read more non-fiction, so this is one to look out for. Thanks for the review!

Gentle Reader said...

Wow, loved that passage. I teared up too, and I didn't even read the book! Sounds like a touching memoir.

kookiejar said...

That was a splendid quote. Every mother wants a son that thoughtful.

Bookfool said...

I've got this one on the shelf. Like Amy, now you've made me even more eager to read it. Thanks for another terrific review!!

Maggie said...

Oh, Man I want to read this! Thanks!

3M said...

This looks great! Thanks for the review.