I read this book by Evan S. Connell for my book club last year. I didn’t vote for it because I had never heard of it, but I ended up really liking it and the guy who nominated it did not. Life’s funny.
It took me a long time to get into this book, although the book itself is pretty short. It’s made up of very short chapters that are almost like vignettes and together they kind of make up a novel?
As the title suggests, the book is about Mrs. Bridge. It starts when she marries Mr. Bridge and ends two or three decades later when (SPOILER ALERT!) Mr. Bridge dies of a heart attack in his office, so the book really is just about her married life. One thing I found interesting was that Connell makes a point of saying that she never intended to get married at all, but she graduated school and Mr. Bridge came along and proposed and that was that.
They had three kids together: 2 girls and a boy and Mrs. Bridge’s life is pretty much consumed by raising them and caring for her husband. They’re a white, middle-class family in the Midwest in the 1930s and 40s, so you can imagine how little happens. Mr. Bridge is a workaholic so he can afford to keep the family in comfort, but the trade off is that they miss him because they never get to see him.
This book did keep me reading all the way through (although that’s not saying much, since it’s so short), but it wasn’t until the last few chapters that I thought it got really interesting.
Mrs. Bridge is living the American dream: she’s married, has her 2.5 kids in a nice, big house in the suburbs, and they have a black maid who does all the housework, so Mrs. Bridge doesn’t have to do anything.
Turns out that’s exactly the problem. What does one do with nothing to do? Eventually the kids grow up and leave the house, Mr. Bridge continues to spend as much time as ever at the office, and Mrs. Bridge is left with nothing to do. No purpose.
She starts to sink into depression, but it’s so subtle that I think some of the members of my book club missed it. That’s kind of the point because even Mrs. Bridge doesn’t realize she’s depressed (after all, what does she have to be depressed about?) until one of her friends has a nervous breakdown and ends up on bed rest.
Mrs. Bridge ends up realizing she needs help and telling her husband that she thinks she needs therapy. He dismisses the idea with a “Nonsense,” and that’s that.
I would have liked to have gotten a few chapters of Mrs. Bridge’s life as a widow. Does she go to see a therapist without her husband there to say no? I remember after my grandfather died, one of the first things my grandmother did was buy herself a fancy new refrigerator because it was the kind of thing he never would have agreed to pay for.
On the other hand, I see what Connell was doing by starting the story when Mrs. Bridge gets married and ending it when she gets widowed. It’s perfectly done and I loved it.
That said, not everyone in my book club enjoyed it. A few of them (men and women) thought it was shallow and not representative of women at the time. I can understand the frustration of the common assumption that no women worked at that time, when in fact many women did, but I loved that a man (and especially a man of the mid-20th century) was able to identify and discuss depression in women who seemingly have it all. I’m normally skeptical of books about women written by men, but I loved this one.
What did you read this week? Anything else that left you pleasantly surprised?