The denizens of Mason, Missouri, are at it again, dispensing just deserts with unearned optimism on the side.
The premise for this book, a sequel to two other novels set in Mason (Night of Miracles, 2018; The Story of Arthur Truluv, 2017), is the Confession Club, a group of mostly middle-aged women who meet regularly at each other’s homes to exchange secrets over wine and treats. For the most part, though, the Confession Club operates independently and irrelevantly of the novel’s main concern—the ongoing sagas of the late Arthur Truluv’s surviving friends. Iris, baking teacher extraordinaire, is about to turn 50, and 20-something Maddy has just returned from New York City with her 7-year-old daughter, Nola, leaving her new husband behind. A major character is introduced: John, a 66-year-old, handsome, homeless Vietnam vet, has made his way from Chicago to Mason, taking up residence in an abandoned farmhouse. Berg does not delve deeply into either the details of John’s homeless existence or his Vietnam combat experience. However, the competence and resourcefulness John displays as a homeless person are strangely at odds with his PTSD. This contradiction might give readers pause, since PTSD (for which he refused counseling) led to John's wife’s departure, which resulted in his homelessness. Iris is immediately attracted to John, albeit leery of him—and it’s unclear how leery she should be. The Confession Club seems to exist mostly to explore themes like infidelity, loneliness, independence, and longing, which are too generic to relate to the principal players’ predicaments. As usual, Mason is a refuge unruffled by the country’s political turmoil, and conflict, if any, is mostly avoided before it can generate any excitement. Some readers may wish to return to Mason again and again, to relax with the literary equivalent of well-worn slippers, a glass of wine, and no wellness diets in sight. But readers seeking insight into modern American life, leavened with humor, might be better challenged by Richard Russo or Anne Tyler.
All the bucolic pacifism of an episode of Prairie Home Companion without the seething undercurrents.