Book Review: Ask Again, Yes


There are stories told that speak of sad, vengeful events that took place in a person’s life.  And there are stories left untold, long cast into oblivion. While some are forgotten, others serve as a reminder of one’s past.  Stories can either transform or break, and mend broken things in due time. These are the stories surrounding every character in the novel, “Ask Again, Yes” by Mary Beth Keane. The novel underscores the importance of forgiveness, acceptance, and of love.  One that reminds its readers how anger, hatred and vengeance set off a series of events that could destroy lives.

How much can a family forgive?

A profoundly moving novel about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the bond between their children, a tragedy that reverberates over four decades, the daily intimacies of marriage, and the power of forgiveness.

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

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Point of View, Writing Style, & Atmosphere

The author made use of a third-person omniscient point of view, multiple timelines, parallel structure, beautiful imagery, and lengthy, at times, complex sentences that reveal a lot about each character.  It can be observed that the author is very detailed in her choice of dialogues and descriptive narrative (again, the author made use of long, continuous sentences) to create a variety of effects for the readers mainly for dramatic execution. 

Central conflict:

The conflicts explored in the novel exist between individuals; individuals and society; and individual versus himself. The novel explores the conflict between the two families brought about by a trick of fate and not by intentions.   It also delves into the relationship between Kate and Peter and how they have struggled against the repercussions of the tragedy that separated them. Each of the main characters had to resolve internal struggles by overcoming their true nature (i.e Anne and her mental issues, Peter and his alcohol addiction, Francis’ discrimination against the Stanhopes, and Kate’s vindictive nature against Anne).

Themes:
  • Power of love, forgiveness, and redemption

Themes of love, forgiveness, and redemption are evident, arranged sequentially as one tragedy after another led the characters to accept their flaws and loosen their hold on hatred. 

  • Mental health

The novel’s brilliance is credited to its depiction of mental illness which raises awareness globally. The author narrated how Anne’s behavior came about as a result of childhood trauma, sexual abuse, and the loss of her first child.  One could observe the stark contrast between how mental issues were addressed during Anne’s time compared to the present. It also covered how mental illness tends to run in families as a result of both genetic and social factors. The book communicates how fatal the consequences are if mental health patients are left untreated, continuously ignored and stereotyped.  

  • Marriage

Marriage is a common theme in literary fiction.  It bears a contagious effect on its readers because of how easily they can relate. Like there is an immediate but unseen link that connects the fictional characters to the readers.  The novel explores the grounds why marriages crumble and fail as evident in Anne and Brian’s marriage — how Brian failed as a husband to address his wife’s descent into madness.  Francis’ relationship with Lena may not be entirely blissful but they loved each other very much and both were responsible parents to their three girls. But the tragic accident that happened to Francis broke him–made him both vulnerable and indifferent. Kate and Peter’s marriage started off on the right foot but as Peter descends into the same path that his parents went through, Kate’s love for Peter became their saving factor.  It can be said that Kate’s fate was similar to her mother’s, while Peter’s a reflection of Francis’.  Lena and Kate’s remarkable strength, loyalty, and ability to forgive salvaged their marriage.

There is so much more to say about this book.  It is truly a beautifully crafted literary work that is much deserving of all the praise and recognition.  Although the book is not an easy-read, it manages to get you hooked because of how the characters’ lives were changed by a tragedy, and how a new one brought them back together.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Mary Beth Keane

Length: 400 pages

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Scribner; First Edition (May 28, 2019)

ISBN-10: 1982106980

ISBN-13: 978-1982106980