Ask Agian, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
Maturity Level: 5-
View on Goodreads
Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, two rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne—sets the stage for the explosive events to come.
Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting exploration of the lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Francis and Lena’s daughter, Kate, and Brian and Anne’s son, Peter. Luminous, heartbreaking, and redemptive, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story, while tested by echoes from the past, is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.
I was surprised by how different Ask Again, Yes, was from anything I had ever read before. I was equally surprised halfway through to find that I was enjoying the book. It was such a low-key enjoyment that I thought I was bored, but eventually I discovered that I was quite attached to the characters.
This is a generational family drama, but what makes this one feel different is its brevity. With nearly fifty years squeezed into 300 pages, there aren’t many “scenes” showing a specific event, and the few of them are typically very short. Instead, sweeping generalities are made of how characters feel over the course of months and even years. A particular event may be mentioned, but dialogue and specifics are rare. So when a detailed scene of a single day is provided, you know it’s going to be significant.
It wasn’t my favorite format for a novel, and I wouldn’t want to read more books like it, but I found myself enjoying the reading process and I’m glad to have experienced it.
The leading characters, Kate and Peter, weren’t particularly interesting people, which I think is kind of the point. We’re meant to understand, I think, that they represent the “average” American. (In 2020 we might notice that the “average” American is white and middle class and doesn’t have any friends who aren’t white or middle class…) The most interesting character was Peter’s mother, who has an acute mental illness that is at one point diagnosed as bipolar disorder. But other than her everyone is very vanilla, which is maybe what provides some of the book’s charm. You feel like you could be reading about your neighbor. At least, you could if you live in a middle-class white neighborhood. I will say that it was refreshing to read literary fiction about people who aren’t filthy rich.
I connected most with the major themes of this book, which are overcoming mental illness and forgiveness. In this case I’m using mental illness very broadly, as everything from postpartum depression, PTSD, bipolar, and addiction are represented in this book. Characters handle their mental health in a variety of ways, but the one constant is hope. While the writing leaves you feeling uneasy, as if something bad is about to happen, thankfully this isn’t the kind of book where everything bad that could happen does. Characters successfully go on with their lives in spite of struggles. And that’s where the major theme of forgiveness comes in. Every character experiences forgiveness in different ways, but they all have to forgive and be forgiven.
In the end, it was the hopeful outlook of this book that I most appreciated. Do bad things happen? Yes. But with the help of family we can live full, happy lives.
Recommended for fans of Little Fires Everywhere or The Dutch House. Not recommended for people who need quick prose or lots of dialogue.