Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Review: The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner

It's always curious looking at a community from the outside. It's perhaps curiouser to look at a community from the inside. When that community includes your mother and ladies you've known, but not really known in depth, for decades, it is curiouser and curiouser. Betsy Lerner's interesting and warm memoir, The Bridge Ladies, looks at her mother and women she's been playing bridge with for more than half a century. It looks at their lives, the expectations they faced, and how they have always interacted together. It also looks at Lerner's relationship with her mother and how her investigations into the game of bridge brings them closer than they have ever been.

Betsy Lerner grew up watching her mother and the four other women of the group meet weekly for their standing bridge game. As a child she was intrigued by the women and that interest reignited when she went to care for her mother after a surgery. She knew what these women had lived through in broad strokes, both historically and locally, but she had no idea of their smaller personal histories. And she had an image in her mind of the way that their longstanding friendship worked, imagining that it was similar to that of her own friendships with peers. But over the course of time, as she was cautiously welcomed into the group, she discovered that her ideas about the ladies, and about her own mother in particular, were in fact quite off the mark. Lerner interviews each of the women about her life and life choices. She wonders at the way that these ladies kept their own council, maintained their reserve, and, most interestingly of all, didn't gossip at the bridge table. This behaviour is in direct contrast to Lerner's own experience with her generation, the Baby Boomers. These five Jewish women, all of whom had married and had children, as was expected of them, had a long history with each other and yet still they didn't share confidences. Over time, as Lerner questioned them, they opened up slightly more to her, especially as it became clear that Lerner had a sincere interest in getting to know them better, to appreciate the lives they chose and led, and to leave judgments aside. Even so, they kept a dignified reticence about certain things. In understanding this dignity in the others, Lerner comes to appreciate it and forgive what she once thought of only as distance in her own mother too.

Lerner uses the game of bridge and the lives of the other ladies as a bridge to understanding and repairing her fraught relationship with her own mother. Chapters where she goes to learn the game herself are interspersed with her interactions with the ladies and her mother. Just as Lerner slowly comes to appreciate the complications and beauty of the game, she comes to appreciate the lives of women who chose to live so very differently than she herself did a generation later. She may not understand their life choices (or exactly how the bidding is a conversation between partners obliquely telling each other what they have in their hands) but she learns to value the lives they've led, to honor the secrets they've kept, and to let go the differences that separated her from her mother (and to at least understand the process of an opening bid). There are many comparisons to her own life, a highlighting of major differences, the contrast between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers evident in so many ways. Lerner also confronts the sadness of aging and decline, acknowledging that growing older necessarily robs a person of independence, diminishing them, and undermining the person they were when they were young. She sees the appeal of the comfort and familiarity of routine that has kept the ladies gathering around the bridge table for so many years. This is a very personal exploration of relationship, family, and friendship. Accessible and interesting, the memoir is a quick read, blending Lerner's experiences with the conventional lives against which she spent her teen and early adult years rebelling. That bridge and the bridge ladies bridged this long divide is both lovely and fitting. The complex game that seems to be restricted to the elderly these days proved a life learning experience and an insight into a very different community for sure. How curious.

For more information about Betsy Lerner, take a look at her web page, like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. I hope to have a group of "regulars" like this as I get older, friends/acquaintances that I get together with time and time again. It seems like a comfortable way to spend time.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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