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Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
Published by Scribner
Publication date: May 28, 2019
Genres: Book Clubs, Coming-of-age, Fiction, Literary, Social Issues
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Ask Again, Yes is a complex family story that begins with the lightest of connections. Brian Stanhope and Francis Gleeson are two young men from Ireland who begin their careers as cops together in New York City. They move to the suburbs, right next door to each other and start families. But there their relationship halts. Brian’s wife Anne is a cold and unfriendly woman and rebuffs all efforts at friendship. They end up working in separate precincts and life moves on. But a new bond is formed when Brian’s son Peter and Francis’s daughter Kate are drawn to each other as children, despite Anne’s antipathy towards Kate and her family. As childhood segues into the teenage years, their friendship hovers on the brink of something else.
The novel takes a turn when an unexpected act of violence scatters the two families. The Gleesons remain in their home but Brian, Anne, and Peter are all thrown into other orbits a long way away. It is only when a reconnection is formed that everyone is forced to face the history they’ve buried. Despite so much damage done by others, author Mary Beth Keane, (who wrote the fascinating Fever, a historical novel about Typhoid Mary), doesn’t let it sink Ask Again, Yes. Instead, it is absorbed and woven into the story with all its implications, much in the way it would be in real life.
Aside from the massive event that occurs in the novel’s early chapters, Ask Again, Yes is a story of the small bits of life. Keane follows Peter and Kate from childhood to middle age and their parents from adulthood to old age. Along the way, she gently unpacks each of their lives, bringing to light the impact of mental health issues, what it means to be a parent, growing up, forgiveness. She shows the multitude of ways connections are formed, broken, and reformed. How they shape us. This is a lovely, studied family saga that is welcome reading as the frenetic pace of the holidays begins. I highly recommend.
I hope you all have a relaxing and enjoyable Thanksgiving!
Susie | Novel Visits says
While I enjoyed Ask Again, Yes, it just wasn’t a five star read for me. I didn’t see much that was unusual or unexpected about the arc of its story, except for the one event, which had been widely revealed in publisher materials. However, I realize I’m in the minority on these thoughts and am very glad you loved it. Happy Thanksgiving!
That’s so interesting, because I read almost nothing about this book beforehand. It was at the library, I grabbed it. I might not have felt as strongly if I hd known about the main event. I appreciated how the characters grappled with dealing with it throughout their lives.
Gayle Weiswasser says
I LOVED Ask Again, Yes. One of my favorites of the year. Do you recommend Fever?
One thing I loved about this book: she didn’t write about Peter and Kate’s wedding, for example, or the immediate aftermath of the shooting, only revisiting it later in flashbacks.
I do recommend Fever. She has a way of getting into the heads of deeply unlikable characters (like Anne) and making them understandable, if not sympathetic. Plus, Fever is really interesting from a historical perspective.
I tried this on audio and it didn’t take. Which probably says more about my ability to absorb an audiobook these days than anything. Perhaps I should retry in written form. Glad you got a 5-star read!
I have the same problem. It seems I’m an incredibly slow listener but a fast reader. Especially when it comes to fiction. Her writing is really lovely so maybe put this on your TBR for when you’ve got time to read backlist.
Yeah I’d like to read this one …. and I don’t know about the “event” that happens …. which is good. The less known is probably good with this one.
I think so. The writing reminded me of The Dearly Beloved- the same examination of all sides of a difficult topic.