The All Good Books discussion group will meet online today, April 16, 2020, using Zoom at 7 PM. We’ll discuss Elizabeth Berg’s novel, The Confession Club.

Some potential discussion questions covering the first portion of the book follow (sorry, I didn’t find any discussion questions posted online and ran out of time to complete questions for the remainder of the novel).

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you compare “The Confession Club” with the other two Mason, Missouri novels by Elizabeth Berg (“The Story of Arthur Truluv” and “Night of Miracles”)?
  2. Who was your favorite character in the novel? Why?
  3. Which confession from the novel was the most significant?
  4. Why did John leave Chicago?
  5. Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be homeless? What are your thoughts?
  6. Iris driving back from getting “black cake” recipe supplies thinks, “All hope is in the early morning.” What does that mean to you?
  7. Explain why you think Joanie, a librarian, defaces a book she’s reading? She says, “you all know how I used to feel about people defacing books, but listen: It made it my book. It was me being me. I beat the hell out of that book, and it’s now the one that I love the best.”
  8. In her confession, Joanie quotes Samuel Pepys, “Saw a wedding in the church. It was strange to see what delight we married people have to see these poor fools decoyed into our condition.” What does that mean to you? Why does Joanie quote it?
  9. When first introduced to the Confession Club, Joanie says, “Talking about things you’re ashamed of is nothing to be ashamed of.” To which Maddy replies, “…anyway, isn’t listening to things like that what good friends do for one another all the time?” Do you agree? Do you have friends you can tell anything to?
  10. What does “kissing the glass” mean and would you do it?
  11. “The things people throw away! Iris thinks. She’d like to go to the dump, too. She does have an eye for what’s worth salvaging, or her consignment store never would have done so well. She can spin the word vintage with the best of them. And she has always had a great deal of appreciation for the odd adventure.” Do you enjoy salvaging at flea markets, antique shops and consignment shops? What’s something you found that you were really excited about?
  12. Growing up we’re you taught that “Girls didn’t go after boys. Girls waited”? What does it mean and was that true when you were dating? Is it true now?
  13. Iris has “heard often enough that one should not give money to the homeless, that one should instead direct them to a shelter where they might get help. But a woman she worked with who routinely gave money to people on the street said something else. ‘Isn’t it hard enough for them to even ask?’ she said. ‘Do I really need to tell them what to do with their lives when I know absolutely nothing about them? I just feel an obligation to try to help in some way. What else can I do to help someone?’” Do you agree? Have you given money or meals to the homeless or referred them to shelters? Which do you think is best?
  14. In the novel, is a statement that “If there was anything Maddy learned after Arthur and Lucille took her in as a pregnant teenager, it was that families don’t have to be biological. She finds it hard to let go of the notion that you should matter to your father, though.” How did you react to that statement?
  15. In a conversation with Maddy, Iris says, “I’ve learned that blaming doesn’t get you far. Self-reflection helps. Trying to change helps, too. But it’s hard, Maddy, I’ll give you that. It’s hard, but I think it’s worth it to try. Sometimes little successes here and there can all of a sudden…I don’t know…consolidate, I guess, and you see that you really are a different person.” What were the circumstances of the conversation? Do your life experiences suggest that Iris is correct?
  16. In the novel, Maddy expresses concern that “if she spends too long with people, she will be found out.” What do you think she means and why does she have that fear?
  17. Iris envies Nola for “her default setting of goodwill toward man, beast, or weather.” Why does that approach to life seem so easy for children and so difficult as we age?
  18. Maddy reflects at one point on a conversation with Arthur while fishing about why people care what other people think. Arthur calls it a design flaw. What do you think?
  19. After a time of self-doubt, Maddy thinks “You can’t ask your children to save you. But they do it anyway.” Do you agree? How do our children save us?
  20. Why does John think that falling in love with Iris is bad news?
  21. Gretchen says “We’re all mean to our mothers. It’s a daughter’s duty.” Is that true? Why?
  22. Dodie suggests to Gretchen that she divorce her sons. Why and have you ever “divorce” someone mentally?
  23. Ollie cautions John about going back to someone he’s hurt in the past to make amends. She says, “I had a good friend practically fall apart when her husband came back to see her to make ‘amends.’ There she was all fine in a new relationship, and here he comes, waltzing back into her life, looking real good, all cleaned up, and it just threw her for a loop….He comes in and says, ‘I’m sorry,’ and that makes him feel all good about himself and then he leaves again….” What do you think about someone reentering someone’s life just to clear their conscience?
  24. How would you react if a close friend asked you to assist with his/her suicide? Would their age or health or pain level alter your response?
  25. What was your reaction to the novel’s ending? Expected? Was it a surprise? Were you disappointed? Or pleased?
  26. Which of the following best describes the novel? A roller coaster ride? A gentle float trip down a calm river? Walking through a corn maze? A Sunday afternoon drive down a known road? Running through a mine field with no mine detector?
  27. Would you recommend the book to a friend? If so, why or why not?