As a child, I loved my mother's Bridge Club. The elegant ladies! The candy dishes! The dummy! As a teenager, I thought they were square, their game trivial. All that changed when found out about their lives and fell in love with their game.
So this is my project: to collect as many Bridge stories as possible especially if noshing is involved. Did your mom play?
Metronorth. 7:33 to Manhattan A man calls a woman and says he has two things to tell her, not three, no four. First, he loves her. Second, contrary to what anyone tells her, he is going to take care of her. Third, she has to trust him, and fourth, it’s going to work out; does she believe him?
When the publisher is preparing to publish your book, they ask you to answer an “author’s questionnaire.” It has a zillion questions that all boil down to one: who do you know? Who can give you a blurb, who can promote you, who will have you to their bookstore, how many friends and followers do you have, do you have contacts in radio, television, print media. WHere have you been published? Do you have a lecture agent, a TED talk, a platform? Did you go to high school with Stephen Colbert? Smoke weed with Terry Gross? Are you a graduate of this, a member of that. Associations, institutions, clubs that would have you as a member. The more water you can bring to the horse the better. (And this also applies to getting an agent, too. It’s not that having contacts is more important than writing a good book, but showing an ability to get the word out really helps pave the way in a very bumpy marketplace.)
Spent hours on an editorial letter today. I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t figure out how to say it. I got hung up thinking about the best way to make my case. I’ve never given notes to this particular writer and I wasn’t sure how open she would be to “suggestions.” Sometimes I think writing an editorial letter is like drafting closing arguments in which you roll out a series of facts that feed a particular narrative. Other times, it feels like a dance, tentative at first, then more assured. You both need to manage the writer and not manage the writer inso far as you have to be honest. You have to be willing to be the bad guy, the whistle blower, the fact checker, the naysayer. YOu have to say the emperor’s clothes are shabby and ill-fitting.
A writer called me today and asked for some advice. His own agent had stopped returning calls and emails. What should he do? I hate to say it but it’s a little like romantic relationships. When someone doesn’t return calls or emails, it’s time to move on. You want an explanation, you want closure, you want another chance, you want a little fucking respect. People usually don’t call back because the news isn’t good and they don’t know how to deliver it. They feel bad, awkward, and it starts to get easier to avoid than face the person. Look, there is no excuse. But it happens. And it happens a lot. If you’re a writer it’s the air you breathe. You submit your work to magazines and never hear back. You contact agents and never hear back. You finally get an editor and he takes ten months to read your book. You get your book published and no one reviews it. Your mother doesn’t read it. On and on. What do you do? How do you stay in the game?
People ask me what I’m working on next. It takes a few minutes to get my tap shoes on and start dancing. For some reason it always makes me feel defensive, like what’s it to you. Then guilty because I haven’t really started anything. Then ridiculous for hedging and waffling and acting like I can’t remove my thumb from my ass. What am I working on? Don’t I counsel all my writers to start a project right away? I forget how much air it takes to fill a balloon. Fans, flames, germs, seeds, a single image, a forgotten page. Something from nothing. Bring my roots rain.
Drum roll please! Here’s a New York Times Book Review for the Bridge Ladies. Before I read any review, I say a little prayer. Then I speed read. If it’s good, I feel I’ve dodged a bullet, slipped the noose. I read it again, slowly. Then, following relief, I wish it was longer, more enthusiastic, penned by Cynthia Ozick, with lots of crunchy pull quotes. Did they mention my gorgeous similes? Or how if you’re only going to read one book this year: this is it. Did the gates of heaven open? Did Idris Elba ask me out? Did Bette Midler call and say she has to play my mother? Reviews are mind fucks, full stop. But I’m grateful for this one. Don’t get me wrong. Love, Betsy
THE BRIDGE LADIES – NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW A Memoir
By Betsy Lerner
Lerner’s childhood memory of the women in her mother’s bridge club, “their hair frosted, their nylons shimmery, carrying patent leather pocketbooks with clasps as round as marbles,” conjures the magic mothers hold for little girls. But her grown-up relationship with her mother is messy and tense. Then Lerner, a middle-aged literary agent, seizes on a scheme for better understanding. She will tail her mother to her Monday afternoon bridge game, still running after more than 50 years.
At first, bridge bores Lerner. More than once, she’s tempted to check her phone. She had imagined she’d be encountering a senior division of the gossipy female-empowerment rituals she enjoys with friends her own age, but these bridge ladies are old school. She probes for revelations: When did they lose their virginity? How do they feel about aging, death? The ladies parry with a wall of propriety. Worse, the mother-daughter bond still grates. Clothing choices, housekeeping techniques — “every comment she made felt like a referendum on how I lived my life.” Tit for tat, she labels her mother the Duchess of Protocol for her meticulous makeup, her matching craft-fair jewelry sets, her restraint in the face of grief.
When Lerner resolves to join the game, she discovers that bridge is more complicated than it seemed. And so it is with the ladies. Slowly, through an accumulation of sharply observed details, they reveal themselves: How they followed the rules in life as in bridge. How they achieved their aspirations early, marrying proper Jewish men and raising their children. How they manage just fine now, thank you, on their own. Their stories are so similar that Lerner defines them more clearly as a group than as individuals, but she does come to respect them, and she and her mother edge closer to spiky affection.
Lerner’s memoir makes a case for spending time together under the rules of neutrality imposed by a game, an approach to living that refrains from over-sharing and outward complaint to concentrate on the task at hand. The bridge ladies are there for one another, even as they keep their feelings to themselves and play on.
Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.