In the 1930s and 1940s, 44 percent of American homes had at least one bridge player. Bridge was so popular that tournaments were broadcast on the radio. There was a bridge column in The New York Times for 85 years — until 2015. Today there are only approximately three million active bridge players.
Nevertheless, a group of five Jewish suburban wives have continued to gather at each other’s homes to play bridge every Monday at noon for 55 years. In her delightful memoir The Bridge Ladies, Betsy Lerner vividly depicts these five women — one of whom was her mother — and at the same time provides a moving portrait of a mother-daughter relationship.
The poignancy of Lerner’s relationship with her mother makes this book particularly noteworthy. Lerner writes, “As a veteran of the therapy wars, I thought I knew myself fairly well. But when I set out to chronicle the lives of the Bridge Ladies, I had no idea that it was a connection with my own mother I was seeking.” Lerner beautifully describes the joys of her life with her mother but also the tension that characterized their relationship during her teenage years and continued into her adulthood. One scene is emblematic of this conflict: Lerner’s mother takes her to a shoe store, presumably to buy her “fashionable custom shoes” to fit Lerner’s wide feet. However, when Lerner looks around the store, she sees the place as catering to people with freakish feet. She feels hurt and angry, and her mother feels misunderstood; each misreads the other’s efforts.
But all is not lost in their attempts to achieve more calm and a greater appreciation of each other. How mother and daughter achieved their “hard-won midlife reconciliation” is tenderly spelled out in this powerful memoir.
The Bridge Ladies also has a significant Jewish component. Lerner tells the stories of the group of suburban Jewish women who grew up determined to form successful Jewish families with beautiful achievement-oriented children despite the fact they themselves may have faced their own personal demons and struggles. The Bridge Ladies’ courage and commitment to their families and their determined Jewish way of life are often not fully appreciated. Betsy Lerner helps us to better understand these women and provides them with the respect and dignity they fully deserve.