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The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner

Bridge Ladies PB c.JPG

The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner is a memoir that, on the surface, it is about the author’s mother and the friends she plays bridge with each week over many years. But, really it is about mothers and daughters, about expectations and the differences between women who were born and grew up in the depression and the years that followed, and those who were born in the boom years of the 1950s and 1960s.

Betsy Lerner is a poet and a literary agent who now lives in New Haven, Connecticut. After leaving home, earning a MFA in poetry, and establishing a career as a literary agent in New York Betsy moved back to her hometown when her husband accepted a job offer at Yale.

Living close to her mother, a widow who still lives in the family home proves to be both difficult and wonderful. Difficult because Betsy and her mother have always had a rather prickly relationship, and wonderful because they come to know, and more or less accept, each other as the independent adult women they have become.

Betsy’s mother, Roz, has played bridge with the same small group of five women for going on 50 years. They meet on Monday, have lunch, and then settle down for an afternoon of bridge. The ladies are all in their 80s, all Jewish, all long married or widowed, and all relatively well off. They are women who married young, had children, and stayed at home to care for the family and the home while their husbands worked and supported them all. These ladies may well have had ambitions but none that they followed – their path led straight to the altar, and into the kitchen.

Betsy Lerner finds these women a mystery, and wonders how they could not have wanted more. How could they not have wanted the independence of work, and the sense of achievement that is found in work outside of the home? Betsy, born in 1963, wanted none of her mother’s world, rebelling as soon and as often as she could. She did not understand her mother, and her mother did not understand Betsy. How could they?

But, now, Betsy is older, and so is her mother. They both realize that they have an opportunity – never spoken mind you – to share something of themselves with each other. Betsy, curious about her mother’s generation of women, invites herself to Monday bridge. Betsy is most astounded at the lack of intimacy displayed by these women who have known each other for so many years, they do not talk about feelings, there are no hugs or kisses. 

As Betsy comes to know these women she discovers that not only are they always perfectly groomed and well mannered, they do, in fact, have a lot to offer as an example of how to bravely face what life might bring.

Betsy observes that “Bridge brings out the best and worst in a person: how competitive you are, how generous, how petty, how kind”. Not only is Betsy intrigued by the ladies she also becomes fascinated with bridge. Deciding to learn to play she takes lesson from a club in New York, and sometimes joins the ladies as a player.

Ultimately, The Bridge Ladies is a book about the love, expressed or not, between mothers and daughters, the support of friends, expressed or not, and the choices and challenges we all have to make at some stage of the game – in life and in bridge.

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