The Confession Club

A Novel

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USA TODAY BESTSELLER • An uplifting novel about friendship, surprising revelations, and a second chance at love, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Story of Arthur Truluv.

When a group of friends in Mason, Missouri, decide to start a monthly supper club, they get more than they bargained for. The plan for congenial evenings—talking, laughing, and sharing recipes, homemade food, and wine—abruptly changes course one night when one of the women reveals something startlingly intimate. The supper club then becomes Confession Club, and the women gather weekly to share not only dinners but embarrassing misdeeds, deep insecurities, and long-held regrets.

They invite Iris Winters and Maddy Harris to join, and their timing couldn't be better. Iris is conflicted about her feelings for a charming but troubled man, and Maddy has come back home from New York to escape a problem too big to handle alone. The club offers exactly the kind of support they need to help them make some difficult decisions.

The Confession Club
is charming, heartwarming, and inspiring. And as in the previous books that take place in Mason, readers will find friendship, community, and kindness on full display.

Advance praise for The Confession Club
“[A] feel-good testament to taking risks, falling love, and reinvention . . . Berg effortlessly wraps her arms around this busy universe of quirky characters with heartbreaking secrets and unflagging faith. . . . Readers new to Berg’s Mason will be dazzled by this bright and fascinating story, and fans will be cheering for the next volume.”Publishers Weekly

Under the Cover

An excerpt from The Confession Club

Chapter 1

Spill It, Girls

For Confession Club, Joanie Benson is going to make Black Cake. It seems right: dense, mysterious, full of odd little bits and pieces of surprising ingredients. It was seeing The Belle of Amherst that gave her the idea. Joanie had enjoyed the play, not so much for all that “Truth must dazzle gradually” stuff—although, come to think of it, didn’t that fit right in with Confession Club? But no, never mind Emily Dickinson drifting around the stage in her white dress, tossing off lines of poetry that made others in the audience quietly gasp; Joanie was fixated on the cake Emily was making. Emily gave out the recipe in a rush of ingredients, but of course one is not prepared to copy down a recipe in a darkened theater, and besides, Joanie wasn’t persuaded that it was a real recipe, anyway. But in the lobby afterward, the theater did a very nice thing: they served Black Cake, and Joanie had some, and it was delicious.

When she was driving home from the play with her friend Gretchen Buckwalter, Joanie waited to get off the freeway to talk. No matter who is driving, they don’t talk on the freeway, they don’t even listen to the radio. (Joanie is a better driver than Gretchen in the sense that she still will make left turns. Gretchen goes around the block, so that she can make a right.) But once they were on the two-lane highway leading to Mason, driving past open fields, Joanie relaxed her grip on the wheel. She told Gretchen she was going to find the recipe for Black Cake and make it for Confession Club, which, don’t forget, was at her house this Wednesday.

“What?” asked Gretchen. She hadn’t been listening; she’d been trying to catch a glimpse of herself in the side-view mirror, never mind the lack of light. Gretchen is sixty-nine years old and one of those former knockouts who just can’t stop mourning the loss of her looks. She admits that if she didn’t think God would punish her by making her die on the OR table—and if she could afford it—she’d have every bit of plastic surgery she could, head to toe. Gretchen knows she is shallow in this regard, but she kind of enjoys being shallow this way. And anyway, she believes her fixation with looking good helps make her store, Size Me Up!, the success that it is. Her boutique is for women of a certain age who still want to fight the good fight, as Gretchen sees it. She has lots of cape-y and drape-y things that cover a multitude of sins. She also sells a lot of jewel-toned scarves that seem to say, Yoo hoo! Up here! Look up here!

Her dressing rooms have curtains that close all the way and her sales staff is trained never to open those curtains—if another size is needed, the customer’s arm comes out when she is good and ready to snatch the hanger. The lighting in the dressing rooms is adequate but merciful, due to the use of pink bulbs; the carpeting is thick, and the white leather benches for sitting on are not those tiny insubstantial things you see in other dressing rooms. Best of all, good music is always playing and wine is available, too, should you need it to counteract the shock of seeing yourself in a full-length mirror in your underwear.

Joanie, on the other hand, has always been satisfied with her admittedly plain-Jane looks. Who cares? She looks friendly! She is friendly! She still wears the bob she wore in high school and she eschews any makeup beyond mascara and pink lipstick. She has a wide-eyed expression that seems to say, Well, hi there! She doesn’t mind the extra weight she carries. She thinks Gretchen is a little nuts for the way she is always dieting, for the way she holds on to her long red hair and hoop earrings. But Gretchen does have her good qualities. And for heaven’s sake, they’ve been friends since they were both in their high school’s production of South Pacific. Gretchen, a senior, was Nellie, the lead; Joanie, a freshman, was one of the native girls wearing a “grass” skirt made of newspaper strips painted green, and a bikini top. She used to help Gretchen run lines and they just hit it off, despite the age difference that then seemed immense and now seems negligible.

“What did you say?” Gretchen asked Joanie, and Joanie told her again that she was going to make the Black Cake Emily Dickinson had talked about. She said she’d go to the library where she used to work and research the recipe. Joanie liked any excuse to go to the library; she liked it especially if a patron came up and said they missed her.

“That was your takeaway from the performance?” Gretchen asked. “The cake?”

During the play, Gretchen herself was all Miss Pittypat, her bosom practically heaving, her eyes damp enough to require Gretchen dabbing at them now and then with a balled-up Kleenex. Gretchen was the first to rise for the standing ovation, which the actress did deserve—my goodness, all those lines, all that feeling—but Joanie got a little annoyed that she had to move her jacket and purse and then push up hard on the armrests to stand, which hurt her elbows, because even though she’s only sixty-five, she has awful arthritis. Then she had to endure what she thought was excessive—really, just excessive—applause from the crowd (one person shouting, “Brava!” with a rolled r, for heaven’s sake!). All that clapping and clapping and clapping, Joanie’s hands got tired, but who wanted to be the party pooper and stop clapping first?

Well, that’s what you get when you leave the sensible little town of Mason, Missouri, and drive all the way to Columbia, everyone putting on airs all over the place, even the waitstaff in the restaurants: “Good evening, I’m Thaddeus, I’ll be your server for the evening. May I start you out with one of our signature cocktails?” And then that business of not writing down anything she orders, which always makes Joanie a nervous wreck. Joanie prefers the greeting offered by the waitstaff in restaurants she frequents in Mason: “Well, look who’s here. The usual, hon?”

Still, one must endeavor to incorporate a little culture into one’s life. One can’t rely on the Town Players and the Gazebo Summertime Band and Poulet Frisée Olé for everything. Joanie also attends the monthly poetry readings at the library, but that is less culture than charity, Grace Haddock and her impenetrable lines of alliteration every time. Alliteration does not a poem make, thinks Joanie, and she’s not the only one, judging by the gritted teeth and crossed arms of the people around her whenever Grace grips the edges of the podium and lets fly. Most of the poems the participants present aren’t very good. Still, each time Joanie walks home from one of those readings, she thinks about something she heard. Once a man wrote about his first kiss. “Lips as soft as petals,” he’d said shyly, his head down, and it made Joanie go all melty inside, which only went to prove that she was, too, a romantic person, never mind what others sometimes said about her. (Once, at Confession Club, they were talking about first loves and someone said Joanie’s first—and only—love was Dewey Decimal.)

The poet that night said something else, too, about eyes shining in the dark, and Joanie liked thinking about that, those young eyes, that first kiss. It made her think about her own first kiss, which was in a basement and, oh, Lord, it was her cousin, which she will never tell anyone, and she hopes he never will, either. He doesn’t live in Mason anymore, thank goodness. It still makes her squinch up inside to think about that kiss, which was the best kiss she ever had, and isn’t that sad, to have had your best kiss when you were twelve years old? If she’d known that at the time, she might have felt like throwing in the towel. But there’s more to life than sex, especially at her age. She’s at a kind of tipping point, she feels. Not young anymore, not old, but looking down at old like it’s a pool she’s going to have to dive into soon. But not yet. Not yet. She’s glad many of her friends are younger. She and Gretchen agree that it’s good to be around younger people. Things rub off. Totally, Joanie has begun saying, with no self-consciousness at all. Gretchen has yet to follow, but she does say cool. She also says that cool was created more by their generation than by this one. So.

Confession Club started accidentally. It used to be Third Sunday Supper Club, formed from a group of eight women ranging in age from their thirties to their seventies, all of whom had taken baking classes with Iris Winters. After the women grew comfortable enough with one another, they began sharing things they’d done wrong. It just became, as they say, a thing, and after a while, they decided to meet more often, twice a month, then weekly. At each meeting, someone confessed to something she’d done recently or long ago. And just like in church, it made people feel better, because at the end of the meeting the group said in unison to the confessor, “Go in peace.” Very powerful words, whatever your belief system. On certain days, those words could make you feel like crying.

- About the author -

Elizabeth Berg is the author of many bestselling novels, including The Story of Arthur Truluv, Open House (an Oprah’s Book Club selection), Talk Before Sleep, and The Year of Pleasures, as well as the short story collection The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted. Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as ALA Best Books of the Year. She adapted The Pull of the Moon into a play that enjoyed sold-out performances in Chicago and Indianapolis. Berg’s work has been published in thirty countries, and three of her novels have been turned into television movies. She is the founder of Writing Matters, a quality reading series dedicated to serving author, audience, and community. She teaches one-day writing workshops and is a popular speaker at venues around the country. Some of her most popular Facebook postings have been collected in Make Someone Happy and Still Happy. She lives outside Chicago.

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The Confession Club

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The Confession Club

— Published by Ballantine Books —