“Confession,” by Richard Freis


Reviewed by Donna Meredith

Confession could just as easily have been titled Obsession, although that name has been snapped up by numerous other books and a popular perfume. This debut novel by Richard Freis is the first person tale of 55-year-old George Burden’s fixation on a woman much younger than his wife—even younger than his youngest daughter. George begins an affair with this woman, Becca Talbot. She works in his law firm.

Not a traditional thriller with a hero trying to prevent a villain from inflicting damage on the world, Confession is a literary novel of suspense, concerned with the psychological deterioration of its protagonist. Taking place over four days in Mississippi, the story builds rather slowly but later becomes gripping.

The confessional nature of the tale creates a tone much like that of Camus’ The Fall or Nabokov’s Lolita. George, however, lacks the charm and wit of those novels’ protagonists. It is difficult to feel much sympathy for him, even when he is confronted by violence. In fact, many readers may shrug and feel he had it coming.

It is difficult to characterize what George feels for Becca as anything other than the shallow, lustful passion a teenage boy experiences—or the kind that grips a man in the midst of a mid-life crisis. George dwells on Becca’s looks and youth, and of course their sexual encounters. He is so consumed by lust that he shucks off everything else—family and career all but forgotten.

Neither Becca nor her mercurial brother Frank come off as particularly sympathetic characters either, especially as the novel heads into its unexpected climax and reveals their true nature.

The most engaging chapters are those when George drifts back in memory to his childhood. If all we knew of him was what happened back then, he would be the kind of guy we would choose to befriend. The setting and family scenes depicted here are rendered with evocative details that ring true.

An intriguing aspect of George’s confession is that he skirts around the enormity of his blackest sin, which is not his adultery. Here, the author’s restraint in not quite telling all is masterful. Which of us, after all, wants to blurt out each gory detail of our own corruption? This holding back tells us George can hardly bear to face what he has done.

Religious symbolism occasionally enhances the novel’s theme. In one beautiful example, George tells us his love for Becca “nailed him to the cross.”  While his actions are far from admirable, George is a memorable character who will haunt readers long after they finish the last pages of his confession.

A long-time resident of Mississippi, Richard Freis has been published in Poetry, The Southern Review, Drastic Measures and other magazines and anthologies. His libretto for a cantata by Alva Henderson, From Greater Light, based on the story of Job, had its world premiere in 2008 in Los Angeles with the Pacific Symphony. Freis has been a professor of classical studies, director of the innovative Heritage Program, and designer of the Leadership Seminars in the Humanities at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. One of the founders of the Mississippi International Ballet Competition, he holds a BA from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland; an MA and PhD from the University of California, Berkeley; and a Masters of Theological Studies from Spring Hill College. He is currently working on a spiritual book about finding aspects that are good in illness and suffering. He is also completing a mystery featuring a detective with chronic fatigue syndrome, an illness the author himself suffers from.

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