• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me

George Hodgman (author of Bettyville) does his best Baba Wawa interviewing me here:

George Hodgman (GH): I just read that you and your mother are going to Reno for the National Bridge Championships. You’re like Ryan and Tatum in ‘Paper Moon.’ So tell me, have you actually started to like playing bridge and how did this all begin and what’s next? Mother and daughter swimming with the dolphins?

Betsy Lerner (BL): Swimming with the dolphins is so Eighties. Bridge is the future. Think about it, we’re living longer than ever before. You’re going to want to play Bridge in the nursing home. I started by taking lessons at the Manhattan Bridge Club. I was immediately hooked, though my enthusiasm sadly exceeds my ability.

GH: When I wrote my book, I had to worry and I did worry—a lot—about my mother’s reaction. How in the world have you managed to keep all five ladies happy and not calling lawyers or launching missile strikes in your direction? Very tough to please these folks AND keep your honesty/integrity as a writer.

BL: No way was I going to screw them. If it was off the record it stayed off the record. I still live in New Haven and have to eat lunch in this town. I tried very hard to capture their essence, and their personalities. You gave me advice at one point that guided me: you never regret keeping something unkind out. It served me well.

GH: I am really fascinated by the longevity of these bridge groups all around the country, women who have played together for half a century sometimes. It is truly an amazing tradition. They must have developed incredible intimacies, but also incredible rivalries and resentments. Could you please talk a little about the whole personal dynamic of your mother’s club?

BL: My mother’s club has been together for over 50 years. But they don’t seem incredibly intimate. In part, it’s generational. “Sharing,” for folks in their generation, meant splitting a sandwich, not spilling your guts. Observing the dynamic in my mother’s club reminded me of a long marriage; sometimes you have to keep it zipped for the greater good.

GH: These women have led what you might call traditional or conventional lives. Do you think they ever felt jealous of your life? Were there things about their choices and lives that made them have any regrets?

BL: I’ve heard regret in their voices. Most poignant is the lady who gave up on a much-desired acting career because she couldn’t imagine going to New York or Los Angeles on her own. They all gave up something, but they also believed they had the life they wanted.

GH: I think that Bridge sounds like a very hard game, and you do a good job of capturing the difficulty not just of learning it, but of sitting down with these veterans who are really serious about it. Talk a bit about your learning curve and please, tell me, are you a good player now?

BL: I no longer suck. Let’s leave it at that.

GH: You are a very busy literary agent. You write. You have a husband, a daughter, a host of lovers throughout the country. You are a very ambitious woman, but don’t come off like that at all. Can you tell us a little bit about how you have managed to “have it all”?

BL: First, I only need five hours of sleep. Second, I am incredibly compulsive. I am ambitious, but I am also filled with self-loathing so it balances out. I try to keep my lovers happy.

Got any more questions?

11 Responses

  1. I didn’t know you lived in New Haven! That changes everything! Okay, so my kids and the people they married, and my ex-husband ALL went to Yale. I have very good memories of visiting. Plus, when I was at Mt. Holyoke, I came to “mixers” at Yale and met a very erudite, fun guy who became my boyfriend. I LOVE NEW HAVEN.

    So, yeah, this is totally irrelevant, I know. Looking forward to your book. I plan to give it to a bunch of ladies in Palm Beach and Philly — they play bridge. I’m too stupid to play bridge. I’m pretty sure of that.

    Can you tell I’ve had a martini?

    • Shout out to a fellow uncommon woman. Shit, it felt like cattle getting off the bus to go to those god awful mixers. And no, I never had a boyfriend, just pancakes in the dorm the next morning, smothered in pity syrup.
      Back to bridge…the Mt. Holyoke girls in the “smokers” played bridge all night, punted, never studied, barely graduated. Heck, they prepared themselves for life. But now I play, and Betsy, your book is gonna be a grand slam. Congrats!

  2. My question: When will the gene(s) for getting by on five hours of sleep a night become available for transplantation, gene-therapy infusion, whatever?

  3. love, love this goddamn interview. I dont know whether to learn how to play bridge or start knitting. My daughter is learning how to knit.

  4. We live twenty minutes apart. I find that comforting in a way.
    I hate the Q so don’t worry that I’ll show up with a deck of cards and bottle of something. I don’t play bridge and I don’t drink bottles of something so really, you are safe.

  5. Glad you posted the interview here…!

    My only question, why bridge? Have you ever wondered that? It was the age of brand new household inventions, Saran Wrap, Color TV broadcasted to all households, velcro, Con-Tac paper, etc. etc., but these ladies were playing a version of a game that started 400 years ago.

  6. What a great interview. Both the questions and the answers had me smiling. My copy of TBL is waiting for me at my local bookstore. I hope to pick it up this afternoon.

  7. I never thought how hard it must have been to juggle your obligations to your bridge ladies alongside your instincts as a storyteller. I did not feel anything amiss while I was reading Bettyville, so leaving out the unkind bits seems to make the heart of the story even bigger. And hey. . .I ordered my book thru Amazon just so I could get it before everybody else and be the first Verified Purchaser to give it 5 stars, so I hope it’s in my mailman’s bad TODAY.

  8. Was this the most fun you’ve ever had writing a book?

  9. Loved the Maureen Corrigan review. Can’t you just live on “this smart and colorful memoir”?


  10. Five hours’ sleep is the key. Lucky that gets easier the older you get.

    Rate I’m going, by the time I hit 90 I won’t be sleeping at all. Watch my productivity go through the roof!

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