The Bridge Ladies

  • Review
By – May 3, 2016

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.

Relat­ed Content:

Car­ol Poll, Ph.D., is the retired Chair of the Social Sci­ences Depart­ment and Pro­fes­sor of Soci­ol­o­gy at the Fash­ion Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy of the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. Her areas of inter­est include the soci­ol­o­gy of race and eth­nic rela­tions, the soci­ol­o­gy of mar­riage, fam­i­ly and gen­der roles and the soci­ol­o­gy of Jews.

Discussion Questions