New Nonfiction: The Bridge Ladies – Betsy Lerner

This is the story of a now elderly group of middle class ladies and their half-century-long bridge club. It’s not a book I intended to read all the way through. But Betsy Lerner is a beguiling storyteller and she is up to more than mere surfaces here (though one of my takeaways from these women is that a properly finished surface will serve you well). In any event, next thing I knew I was done.

In many ways this is a “Greatest Generation” story. And Lerner—who did not much identify with or aspire to the values of these polished ladies of another generation—ended up finding that bridge was an entree into these women’s inner lives.

The result: fascinating, illuminating, touching. About three-fourths of the way through I realized that Betsy Lerner was giving me a peek behind my own mother’s carefully maintained surface of perseverance and silence.

Parade Magazine will make it a Mother’s Day pick and the magazine’s website will run an excerpt from the book. It will also be covered in O, The Oprah Magazine and The Washington Post.

“This absorbing memoir…is about the game of bridge, but it’s also about bridging gaps—both the generational gap and the ‘personal gulf’ that had defined Lerner’s relationship with her mother….Hoping to repair at least some of the rifts between them, she somewhat reluctantly re-enters her mother’s life and begins attending her Monday afternoon bridge game, first as an observer and later—after taking lessons at the Manhattan Bridge Club—as an occasional participant. Along with descriptions of her bridge lessons, Lerner shares the histories of the elegantly dressed New Haven ladies who have met weekly for 55 years, women who came of age in the 1940s and ’50s. As Lerner probes marriage, career, motherhood, postpartum depression, aging, death, assisted living, dementia, widowhood, religion, and sex…[s]he also draws closer to her mother, gaining a deeper understanding of her interior life, including the rarely discussed childhood death of Lerner’s sister. This beautifully written, bittersweet story of ladies of a certain age and era will have wide appeal.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

It was only when Lerner moved back to New Haven to help her aging mother that she began to understand The Bridge Ladies and their fierce loyalties and friendships that continued despite a certain level of boredom with each other. Lerner interviewed each of the women in turn, learning about their successes and failures, love interests, children, and ability to commit to one man for a lifetime….[S]tories about the Bridge Ladies…give a portrayal of a certain sector of women who came of age before feminism was the norm. Lerner captures an era that has long since faded, but it is a time period that gave birth to today’s modern woman, a fact that shouldn’t be overlooked.”
Kirkus Reviews

The Bridge Ladies surprised me – why would I want to read about somebody’s mother’s bridge club? Because Betsy Lerner is a great storyteller, and there’s something universal about the stories she relates here. As Lerner interviews the women about their lives, she gains insight into her own relationship with her mother – and her daughter – and the differences and similarities between them. The Bridge Ladies is warm, entertaining and enjoyable!”
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books and Music, Okemos, MI

The Bridge Ladies: A Memoir (9780062354464) by Betsy Lerner. $25.99 hardcover. 5/3/16 on sale.

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