Oh, to be a fly on the wall!
A review by Ben Antao
The most rewarding outcome upon reading The Bridge Club was that I felt like a fly on the wall, listening to the chatter of women, their secrets and their social lives spread over 40 years in Toronto and Ontario. And the bonus is that these Caucasian women, middle-class and well-educated, come together once a month to play bridge and have a ball of a girls’ night out.
I congratulate Patricia Sands, a member of the Writers and Editors Network of Toronto, on writing and publishing this story involving eight women as a work of fiction that allowed her the freedom to crawl inside the heart and mind of each woman, and weave a story filled with humorous incidents that reflect and refract the character of each. It’s a commendable feat.
The range of personalities covered in this gem of a novel should give you an idea of what to expect. Here goes:
There is an intrepid woman named Cass, trained as a nurse, but whose dream is to sail around the world. So she ditches her husband, a doctor no less, and takes up with a marina deckhand, a much older man to boot, and they refurbish a boat and live on the high seas for five years. No fear of flying for Cass!
And then there is Jane who at age 32 discovers during a ski run in B.C. that she’s strongly attracted to her companion who is a lesbian. “Jane’s energy and zest for living was boundless,” writes Sands, and the Bridge Club referred to her as “fully caffeinated.” Jane’s shocking revelation to her bridge friends is handled sensitively, as well as the parents’ acceptance of their daughter’s gender orientation.
Then comes Bonnie, a fun-loving woman with a family farm in Halton Hills and a mansion in Toronto’s Rosedale, who just loves a cocktail or two. Her descent into alcoholism and eventual recovery through AA receive well-meaning support from the bridge club.
Next comes Lynn, a tree-hugger and an environmentalist, who was adopted as a child. Curiosity takes over, and when the Ontario government allows the adopted sons and daughters of the province to trace their birth parents, Lynn decides to get in touch with her mother. Their meeting is poignant, filled with understanding, but they decide not to take it any further.
Pam is a stay-at-home Mom, with a caring husband, and her response to any dilemma is “It’ll all work out.” Unfortunately, she loses her husband Peter to cancer at the age of 49. This event triggers a flood of sadness and loss, making her story rather melodramatic. The bridge club helps her to get over this sorrow and Pam learns to take one day at a time, one breath at a time, and it’ll all work out!
Then comes Marti. When she was a 20-year-old stewardess (flight attendant today), she had an affair with the pilot, a much older man. Eight years after the affair ended, she plunges into marriage with a twice-divorced father of two, a charming adventurer with a way with women. Marti who always had a great figure goes for plastic surgery for a facelift and to get her boobs reduced when she hits fifty. “How nice to have guys looking into my eyes when they talk to me instead of at my boobs,” she tells her bridge club friends.
Dee, a golf enthusiast, arrives at Pam’s cottage in the country for a party, and blurts out the news. “I’ve got a lump in my breast.” Her husband Ken is in China on business. As her breast cancer is diagnosed, her fear and self-pity are balanced by the strength and compassion of her husband. She recovers ands finds inspiration in these words: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, and hope for tomorrow.”
And finally comes Danielle, a staunch Catholic, who has to deal with her husband Bryce’s ED condition. “Goodness knows that when it comes to sins of the flesh, so to speak, the Catholic Church doesn’t exactly inspire confidence,” says Dani to her bridge friends.
Sands’ writing style is impressive, suggesting that she’s aware of the ways of the world, and what makes the world go round. The sixty something women in this novel came of age in the late 1960s and the reader gets a nostalgic playback of those psychedelic times, when drugs, LSD and grass left their ambient smell and taste everywhere, when hippies scorned tradition to live free as they liked in communities such as the U of T`s Rochdale College on Bloor Street in 1968.
The Chinese expression Ti-Ming for coincidence appears a lot in this book. I was a speaker at the recent Ontario Writers Conference in Ajax, and at lunch found myself seated at the table where Patricia Sands also sat. I didn`t know her for she joined the WEN only recently. She drew my attention to the silhouette of the Queen of Hearts on the back cover of her book, suggesting that I might want to mention the cover in my talk on book covers. And she promptly autographed a copy for me, and said goodbye saying she`s off to Europe and be back in October. T-Ming, indeed, I said after reading her book.
The Bridge Club is published by iUniverse, Bloomington, IN, a 388-page paperback priced at $21.95.
(Ben Antao is a journalist, novelist and financial planner living in Toronto. He has published both fiction and nonfiction: five novels, several short stories, two travelogues, two memoirs, and essays. His email: firstname.lastname@example.org )