Book Review: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
Mary Beth Keane’s Ask Again, Yes is the story of two families, neighbours in upstate New York, and how life can change in an instant but may take a generation before things begin to heal.
Gillam, upstate New York: a town of ordinary, big-lawned suburban houses. The Gleesons have recently moved there and soon welcome the Stanhopes as their new neighbours.
Lonely Lena Gleeson wants a friend but Anne Stanhope – cold, elegant, unstable – wants to be left alone.
It’s left to their children – Lena’s youngest, Kate, and Anne’s only child, Peter – to find their way to one another. To form a friendship whose resilience and love will be almost broken by the fault line dividing both families, and by the terrible tragedy that will engulf them all.
Although some characters in Mary Beth Keane’s novel are either cops or work together with the NYPD, we don’t see much of them at work, beyond the opening scenes. Instead, we see them as their family sees them; we see them at ease, at home. Yet their sense of duty and of wanting to do a good job that comes from being on the force filters through into their home lives and is a recurring theme throughout the novel.
The book jumps forward in time in places and there are shifts in perspective between a number of characters but Keane handles most of these changes smoothly. The benefit of these head changes was being able to see the same event from different angles, and consider a person’s behaviour not only as they perceived it but also how others viewed it.
No one character in Ask Again, Yes is ever wholly good or bad, always right or wrong, and as Keane moves between them, she’s able to show this only too well. I had a better feel for the families and their changing dynamic for her doing so, and while I didn’t always agree with what they were doing or how they were behaving, I could go some way towards better understanding their actions and choices.
Keane explores some important issues here: she looks at the immigrant experience, what’s left behind, and our scope for reinvention and a fresh start; life-altering trauma; mental health; alcoholism; being a child navigating a turbulent home life; the strong bonds of early friendship; the difference between choosing to walk away and seeing things through together; the power of love, family and interpersonal relationships, and how they can lead to forgiveness and even help pave the way towards redemption.
Ask Again, Yes not only shows how life is often a struggle but also how together we can be resilient, where we form these powerful connections. I was moved to tears when I eventually unlocked the significance of its title. Keane’s novel is an involving and ultimately redemptive family drama.
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane is published by Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It is available as an audiobook, ebook and in hardback. You can find it at Amazon UK or buy it from Hive instead, where purchases help support your local independent bookshop. You can find out more about the author and her books on her Author Website, or find her on Facebook, on Instagram or on Twitter.
My thanks to the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.