Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Book Review: 'The Bridge Ladies' by Betsy Lerner

Betsy Lerner’s “The Bridge Ladies” entertainingly and movingly traces the long-standing friendship of five Jewish women, Roz, Rhoda, Bea, Betty, and Jackie, who have been playing bridge together for over fifty years. Lerner frequently quarrels with her mother, Roz, who criticizes her daughter’s appearance, work habits, and housekeeping (“We circled each other like wary boxers.”). Partly to heal the rift with her mother, Betsy decides to spend three years with the Bridge Ladies to find out what makes them tick. The author takes bridge lessons, interviews each member of the Bridge Club, and in the process, opens up to Roz who, in turn, reveals her innermost thoughts to Betsy.

Bridge is not just a card game. It is also a metaphor for the importance of communication, the ties that bind us, and the necessity of playing the hand you are dealt. Lerner believes that octogenarians like her mother are part of “the silent generation” in contrast to her own “tell-all generation.” Betsy notes that the Bridge Ladies are not particularly affectionate or demonstrative; refuse to wallow in self-pity; and are tactful enough to keep quiet about sensitive matters. “The Bridge Ladies” is unsentimental, powerful, and evocative. Lerner beautifully captures the experiences of many young couples who married in the fifties and stayed together for the long haul. Roz and her peers started out with little money, but they married, had kids, and eventually saved enough to buy nice homes. Even if they were overwhelmed, depressed, and frustrated at times, they soldiered on and rarely looked back with regret at what might have been.

Aficionados who are knowledgeable about bridge will get a kick out of Lerner’s visits to the Manhattan Bridge Club, where she takes lessons and practices under the supervision of veteran players. Fortunately, readers do not have to be bridge mavens to appreciate this illuminating exploration of the relationship between husbands and wives, parents and children, and friends of long-standing. Whether she describes how the Bridge Ladies apply their makeup, accessorize their outfits, prepare lunch for their Monday afternoon get-togethers, or care for their spouses, Lerner exquisitely captures life’s fragility and the comfort that we derive from doing what we enjoy and adhering to familiar routines. Although old age can be daunting, it is heartening to observe these impressive women who have retained their values, independence, good nature, and camaraderie for more than five decades.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right

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