The Tender Bar by J. R. Moehringer Hodder & Stoughton, $187 A fine example of the American memoir, The Tender Bar is an exploration of an only child's life spent searching for his radio disc jockey father, who abandoned him as an infant to his hard-working mother, and the bar where the men in the child's life gatherered and influenced him, for better or worse. Moehringer is introduced to the Dickens bar (where every third drink is free) in Manhasset, Long Island, at an early age on a hot summer night in 1972. He and his mother stop at a park to watch the bar regulars playing softball in a beer league and he's transfixed. When he asks her why the men are so silly, she tells him they're happy and that the reason is beer. Manhasset was 'famous for lacrosse and liquor'; was the backdrop for the fictional East Egg in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby; and more recently lost nearly 50 of its residents in the World Trade Centre attacks. Moehringer spent much of his early years there living in his grandfather's dilapidated house (a mere 142 steps from Dickens) because his mother couldn't afford to rent a place for them. He returned from the west coast in 2001 to tell some of the stories about the impact of the attacks on the place where he grew up. Christened John Joseph Moehringer Jnr, the author explains to other characters in the book why he prefers to be called JR without dots, or J.R. Moehringer when named in a newspaper byline, and the reader gets a clear idea of what it was like to be named JR in the summer of 1980, when television soap Dallas was at its peak and everyone was asking: 'Who shot J.R.?' The men who frequented Dickens included Moehringer's Uncle Charlie (a bartender there), the owner Steve, Bob the cop and a colourful cast of other characters. They become surrogate fathers and brothers, as well as the friends and mentors who influence Moehringer's life. These characters, and the many others he meets growing up, are key to the book's success. Moehringer's love for his mother is unquestionable and he dedicates this memoir to her. If the book has one failing, it's the frequent repetition of his guilt at not being able to support her as he feels he should. No doubt his success as a journalist, and now as an author, will ease that guilt. She is his rock, even when they're forced to live apart while she tries to earn money in another state or he's attending Yale on a scholarship. There's no doubt that Moehringer is a master with words and he explores this skill several times, from his frustrating attempts to write an application letter to Yale to his largely unsuccessful years working as a copyboy at The New York Times. Whereas his father ('The Voice') used spoken words on the radio, Moehringer finds his voice in the printed word. He's a powerful storyteller and his journey to adulthood is a well-told tale of self-discovery and self-invention. Visit the book's website ( www.tenderbar.com ) to read an article about a stoic clan of slave descendants in Alabama that earned Moehringer a Pulitzer Prize for newspaper feature writing in 2000. The website also contains some of his childhood photos, an excerpt of the prologue and an audio clip.