I picked up the book Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell because it was recommended by author Meg Wolitzer when she appeared as one of Roger Rosenblatt’s Friends during the first week of Chautauqua in June 2012. Evan S. Connell wrote about Mrs. Bridge in 1959, then about Mr. Bridge in 1969, both of which were combined and presented in 1990 as a film entitled Mr. and Mrs. Bridge. This review concentrates only on the novel Mrs. Bridge.
Mrs. Bridge is a very readable novel, consisting of 117 short vignettes, each with the intention of explaining the behavior and personality of Mrs. Bridge, a singular character whose life is circumscribed by her connection to her husband. Walter and India appear on the surface to be a normal family, the parents of three children, who enjoy a luxurious life in Kansas City due to the hard work and long hours which Walter spends at his law practice.
India has an unusual problem. Everything seems to be taken care of for her. The Bridges have a maid, a laundress, even a chauffeur at one point, and their children are now in the young adult stage where they no longer spend leisure time with their parents. She has nothing to do with her days except to shop, have lunch with her friends and to wait for her husband’s arrival for dinner. Walter is so absorbed in his work that he and India have very little to discuss with each other.
India’s greatest concern is to please others, never to contradict anyone, or to offer a controversial opinion. This limits her conversation to banal responses, especially if she is unsure which side of an issue the other party has taken. The reader has a difficult time relating to the person of Mrs. Bridge who is unlike anyone we might meet on a daily basis.
Evan Connell is brilliant in his presentation of events which are geared to expose the facets of India’s personality which engender the reader’s sympathy as well as consternation that India is locked into a life from which she cannot extricate herself. This all comes together, it seems, in the last vignette which is the most telling. India backed her car halfway out of the garage when the engine died. When she tried to open the car doors, she discovered that a partition on one side of the garage and the wall on the other side prevented all four doors from being opened more than a few inches. No one was around to help her out of this fix.
At this point, we feel that we know Mrs. Bridge so well, but we also wonder if there are actually people in this world who are like Mrs. Bridge. And we quietly breathe a sigh of relief that such an incident with the car door could never happen to us.
Novel – Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell (1959)