Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell is a collection of discrete vignettes that chronical the life of India Bridge, the wife of a prosperous Kansas City attorney and mother of his three children in the 1930s. Mrs. Bridge is a novel that is delicately laced with symbolism and nuance but has no central plot or arc, instead it relies on exquisite refracted observations that are presented in 117 short vignettes each of them one to three pages long. The title, Mrs. Bridge, (an example of the subtle symbolism) references India Bridge’s transition to her life as the married appendage of her husband, a signifier that her roles as wife and mother supersede her individuality – she is ever the good girl/the good wife/ the good mother, and tries mightily to embrace the prescribed social persona and roles given to women of her time and status. She sees and defines herself so much through the lens of other people’s expectations of her that she hardly knows what she likes or wants or believes. For me, the most poignant moments in the book depict instances when she experiences an awareness of those personal vacancies and gets glimmerings that she’s missed out on something profound. As her children grow and leave home, and her husband works long hours to give her material security and then dies, she finds that living solely for others has impoverished both her own life and what she had to give to her relationships. She’s left alone with a vast and aimless emptiness at the end of her life.
Written in 1959, Evan S. Connell’s novel MRS. BRIDGE tells the story about a well-to-do family living in Kansas City. It’s a glimpse into the daily goings on of Mrs. Bridge, her three children, and her busy at work attorney husband, who, while he seemingly adores her, showering her with lavish gifts upon her birthday each year, is absent and does not shower her with the affection she seems to crave. We see Harriet, their African American housekeeper, who is relegated to the kitchen and not treated with the respect that she deserves, nor is the next-door neighbor’s gardener’s daughter who regularly comes over to play with one of their daughters. Pre-Civil Rights sentiments are glaringly obvious in the Bridges’ household and among their country club set. The the book is that it is indicative of the time and of the social strata. It is almost written like a diary. Daily events are jotted down. A glimpse of Mrs. Bridge’s thoughts and activities are recorded as are her longings, her feelings as a wife and a mother. The book is poignant, funny, evocative, capturing a time and place so well.
I have a Ph.D. in English and in all my years of study I never came across this author. Perhaps it was the movie "Mr. Bridges" that brought a forgotten author to light, but however it happened, I'm very glad it did. This is writing on par with Hemingway. It is short, simple, sometimes beautiful, sometimes brutal. It could easily be "the" classic novel about life & expectations in the United States in & around the 1950s, describing the parents of the Baby Boom generation. It's also an example of how the nuclear family, living in isolation in the suburbs is not the best social model for creating engaged human beings and emotional growth . . . but now I'm going beyond the scope of a review . . . .
After reading “Mr. Bridge” I turned immediately to MRS. BRIDGE, both written by Evan S. Connell (1924-2013). “Mr. Bridge” was the story of a lawyer, meandering through his life of industriousness, indifference, and conservatism. His interaction with family and friends was well presented with wit and introspective insight. MRS. BRIDGE is the wife’s view of the same life, as represented by her own feelings, thoughts and relationships.
Both books explore the world of the 1920s to the 1940s of a conventional couple trying to live with both social expectations and the handling of three difficult children but seemingly incapable of handling either. The dysfunction leads to wide gaps in the emotional relationship between them and their children and with each other.
Once again I appreciate Connell’s story and his writing skills. India Bridge suffers with many demons. She is insecure, bored, missing earlier romantic moments with her husband, and feeling estranged from her children. I find her to be extremely interesting; someone yearning for understanding and affection, and putting out desperate feelers for friendship. She is awkward and forward in her search and the results are both painful and humorous. Not surprisingly, her attempt to tell Mr. Bridge that she needs therapy for her unease results in rather abrupt dismissal, typical of their relationship..
At first glance it would seem that she has everything needed for a satisfied existence. She enjoys wealth, a live-in housekeeper, a laundress, a magnificent home, friends, and leisure time for special pursuits. Her husband is not attentive and her children treat her unkindly for her attempts at motherhood. Her friends are mostly superficial and pursue incompatible interests. She has no regular activities that keep her involved and focused: As a result, time drags, leading to boredom and excessive introspection.
Connell is a magnificent writer. He is not judgmental, nor does he expect his readers to follow any predisposed opinions. He lays out the story and leaves the reader to make of it as they see fit, making any resemblance to one’s own existence to be in the beholder’s eye. It is intriguing, however, to recognize how he has discerned the ordinary human condition.
I strongly recommend both MR. BRIDGE and MRS. BRIDGE as great literary adventures. While not runaway best sellers, both books have sold steadily and in good numbers. I find them very enjoyable.
I really liked this book,, and am surprised I hadn't read it earlier. Although Mrs. Bridge took a very sedate center stage, her husband, her children, and the women who influenced her also held my attention.
I could not remember why I bought this book, and I kept reading it, thinking it would come to me. I got all the way to the end without a clue as to what made me order it. It was fine, but I kept expecting something that never happened. It was the life of a somewhat unsatisfied, pampered fifties era housewife. Well written, but ultimately uninteresting.