Book Review

Ask Again, Yes

By Mary Beth Keane

ISBN 9781982106980 
Published 05/28/2019

Fiction / Family Dram


Mary Beth Keane’s well-wrought, emotionally affecting third novel, Ask Again, Yes, chronicles the lives of two neighboring working-class families over the course of four decades.

In the early 1970s, Francis Gleason, an immigrant from Ireland, and Brian Stanhope attend the New York City police academy together and are paired in field training. Francis quickly marries Anne, a nurse and Irish immigrant. Brian marries Lena, the daughter of Polish and Italian immigrants. Though their career trajectories are different, within a year or two, Francis and Brian end up as neighbors in a suburban town about 20 miles north of New York.

The families are not close. In fact, Anne is unstable and aggressively antisocial. But Brian and Anne’s only son, Peter, and Francis and Lena’s youngest daughter, Kate, develop an extraordinary bond. When Peter and Kate are in eighth grade, Anne commits an act of violence that rips both families apart.

All of this happens within the first quarter of Ask Again, Yes. The rest of the beautifully observed story is about the course of Peter’s and Kate’s lives—and through them, their families’—as they find and lose and find each other again. Not surprisingly, it is a fraught journey, shadowed by the dark bruises of their histories. Time, it seems, does not heal all wounds. But it does heal some. To say much more would betray a narrative that holds many surprises, large and small.

Keane sets her story among seemingly regular people in a normal-seeming American suburb. But Ask Again, Yes is a tale that will compel readers to think deeply about the ravages of unacknowledged mental illness, questions of family love and loyalty and the arduous journey toward healing and forgiveness.