The Sinner’s Guide to Confession by Phyllis Schieber
Kaye, Barbara, and Ellen are women whose friendships came together came together as adults and has remained and solidified as they grew older. Kaye and Barbara have grown children they love. Ellen, who married later in adulthood, tried unsuccessfully to conceive with her husband, Bill. Her attempts at motherhood ultimately failed, as did her marriage after Bill began an affair with a woman half his age. As much as these women love and care for either other through thick and thin, through sarcasm and brutal honesty, they each are keeping secrets from each other. This novel is as much about learning to let go of the weight deep secrets that weigh and keep us down as it is about the meaning of friendship as women begin to mature beyond middle age. I found their stories delightful, life-affirming, and heartwarming.
Kaye, a psychologist, has what most would call a good, decent husband. Although he has to be asked to do the little things that Kaye longs for, he loves her, is a wonderful father, and respects her. This was fine until Frank entered her life and reignited the passion within her. He always said and did all the right things and before long, she was in love. She did not confide in her friends until she was on the verge of leaving George. As much as she didn’t want to hurt husband or her children, she had been putting others before herself for too long. Wasn’t now the time to discover all the passions of life she had been missing since her marriage?
Barbara, widowed just two years prior, has a wild secret. She used her talent for writing and her imagination years earlier to establish a successful career as a romance writer. She did so out of necessity because of the shady business deals her husband continued to make, putting the family in more than one precarious financial situation. He was a devoted father and she chose not to leave him after she grew confident that she could if required. Romances were her bread and butter, but after Roger’s death she opened herself up to a new genre of writing – erotica. When writing about women taking control of their sexuality, she was in many ways living out her own fantasies. The more successful her Delilah novels became, the harder it became to keep this secret. She let herself go in her fiction, but would she ever be able to open herself up to her children, her best friends, and her public?
Ellen, the ever classy interior designer, always made sure that she dressed and looked impeccable, right down to her beloved false eyelashes. The beauty she was and the beauty she created for other’s spaces held the painful secret of a teenage pregnancy and a coerced adoption. Her family, and most especially her mother, held the family’s appearances more important than her feelings. The lack of comfort and security she suffered at home prompted her to leave her small hometown and make her own way in the world. She never planned to marry, but after Bill knocked her defenses down, she told him about the daughter she lost. She gave in to love and hoped to start a family. Bill’s ultimate betrayal hurt her, but nothing hurt worse than knowing that the only child she would ever bring into life was callously taken away from her. Kaye and Barbara knew about her infertility, but she never opened up her deepest wound to them. Being stoic is how she learned to overcome the life’s unpleasantness.
When asked to participate in this book tour, I was immediately intrigued by the title. As a Catholic, I am familiar with confession and the release that comes from admitting your faults. Still, knowing what can await on the other side of the confessional does nothing make me eager to verbalize the secrets to which I hold on so tightly. You don’t have to be Catholic to understand this. Just a couple of years ago I remember what a phenomenon Post Secret became. My husband received one of the books as a gift and I remember reading every last one of those secrets. All at once I was looking for someone who might share the same secrets I have and thanking God I don’t have secrets nearly as horrible as others do. I know what a release it must feel for those who send those postcards. Reading this novel had a similar sharp effect on me.
The Sinner’s Guide to Confession is well written and it was not feel-good, predictable, brain candy chick lit for the middle aged woman I had imagined it would be. Although the holding and ultimate telling of secrets is a story as old as time and I left this novel glad to be alive, the author wrote these characters’ strengths and flaws so honestly and lovingly. Several times I felt I knew what was going to happen next only to find out I was wrong. The dialog was natural and at times I could see myself having a Diet Coke with them (I don’t drink tea, coffee or wine), thankful that they were letting me in on their private and not so private jokes. Kaye’s mother Gertie is one of my favorite characters in a long time. As much as I hope that I find someone like her in my life when I need her, I hope that I will be as wise and considerate when my predecessors need me. I was drawn into each characters’ secret, most especially Ellen’s. As an adoptive mother, her story hit home to me. The way that she calls her daughter Faith 32 years later touches my heart. Her hopes and fears gave me insight into Emma’s birth mother and I’m all the more thankful that we are all apart of each others lives. Although I’ve never doubted it, I know that there is nothing more important that Emma’s two mothers could do for her than create a relationship with each other.
I cannot encourage others enough to read this novel. Phyllis Schieber has written about women in their fifties, but this book is not just for older women. How glorious to read a novel about aging that isn’t all about losing youthful looks and figures, losing husbands, and being vengeful and bitter? While this can be the source of much comedy and catharsis, women making their own choices and continuing to grow and learn about themselves and the world around them is so much more appealing. I wish that Bette Midler, Diane Keaton, and Goldie Hawn played Kaye, Barbara, and Ellen instead of members of the First Wives’ Club. The stories here would make a move worth watching, enjoying, and remembering. As someone approaching middle age more quickly every day, I appreciated reading about women who change themselves when their lives and their marriages don’t live up to their fantasies instead of spending their time lashing out and getting even with people and situations outside of their control. My choice will always be to hold hope that faith held over a lifetime will ultimately lead to the purest joy.
So, what’s your secret? How do you feel when you finally share something that’s been bottled up inside?
Here is more information about this book tour and how you can win a free copy of The Sinner’s Guide to Confession:
About Sinner’s Guide to Confession:
Kaye and Barbara are longtime friends, now in their fifties. Ellen, who is several years younger, develops a friendship with the other two women years later, solidifying this close-knit group. The three women are inseparable, yet each nurtures a secret that she keeps from the others.
About Author Phyllis Schieber:
The first great irony of my life was that I was born in a Catholic hospital. My parents, survivors of the Holocaust, had settled in the South Bronx among other new immigrants. In the mid-fifties, my family moved to Washington Heights. The area offered scenic views of the Hudson River and the Palisades, as well as access to Fort Tryon Park and the mysteries of the Cloisters. I graduated from George Washington High School. I graduated from high school at sixteen, went on to Bronx Community College, transferred to and graduated from Herbert H. Lehman College with a B.A. in English and a New York State license to teach English. I earned my M.A. in Literature from New York University and later my M.S. as a developmental specialist from Yeshiva University. I have worked as a high school English teacher and as a learning disabilities specialist. My first novel , Strictly Personal, for young adults, was published by Fawcett-Juniper. Willing Spirits was published by William Morrow. My most recent novel, The Sinner’s Guide to Confession, was released by Berkley Putnam. In March 2009, Berkley Putnam will issue the first paperback publication of Willing Spirits.
Win A Free Book from Phyllis Schieber – Its very easy to be entered in a drawing for a FREE book by Phyllis Schieber. Post comments on any blogs during the virtual tour and you will have a chance to win a book from Phyllis. One random person will win – but we are also asking visitors to share a secret and one secret will also win a free book. As a bonus the blog owner that hosted the winning comments will also win a book. Share some interesting stories and questions with Phyllis Schieber during her tour – and have a chance to win a book.
For full details about Phyllis Schieber’s virtual tour, visit her tour home page – http://virtualblogtour.blogspot.com/2008/12/sinners-guide-to-confession-by-phyllis.html
Order Your Copy here – http://tr.im/2x1g