Book Review: 'Ask Again, Yes'

Aug 19, 2019

Mary Beth Keane’s novel, “Ask Again, Yes,” opens on a New York City street in 1973. Rookie cops Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope respond to an armed robbery in progress, and while Francis checks a victim’s pulse, he considers larger issues:

“There was no predicting where life would go,” he reflects. “There was no real way for a person to try something out, see if he liked it. . . . Because you try it and try it and try it a little longer and the next thing it’s who you are.”

The scene launches a sweeping story about two families whose lives intertwine in loving and tragic ways, and a meditation on the power of happenstance. The Gleesons and Stanhopes end up neighbors in a suburb outside the city, where their two youngest children, Peter and Kate, launch a friendship that steers the course of their lives.

By most accounts the two families should be close, but they aren’t. Brian’s wife, Anne, suffers from mental illness that goes undetected or ignored, until one evening it reaches an explosive climax that drives Peter and Kate apart. The novel tracks their journey back to each other, through decades marked by guilt, resentment, and ultimately, acceptance and grace.

“Ask Again, Yes” is a contemporary family saga perfect for fans of Ann Patchett, Alice McDermott or Richard Russo. Keane’s writing relates drama without melodrama. Her deeply human characters deal with mental illness, alcoholism, infidelity and more, but the plot never wanders or feels cliché.

“They had gone through a bad time – the Gleesons, the Stanhopes – but now look at them,” Kate reflects at one point. “Look at the funny way life could go. . . . Look at the happy ending that could come out of a terrible thing.”

Keane is one of six authors who will be in town Oct. 12 as part of the “Day of Authors” fundraiser for the Assistance League of Wichita. For more information or to register, visit assistanceleague.org.

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