Monday, November 11, 2019

Ask Again, Yes - Mary Beth Keane

Summary: 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. (Summary and pic from

My Review: There are moments in every life where you are completely aware—even right when it is happening—that this will change things forever. Sometimes that’s true right before something happens as well. Those situations are so interesting—because of the very nature of what they are, it gives them a level of gravitas that is both appropriate but also sometimes unpredictable. Even when a life-changing situation is happening (for example, something obvious like marriage or death or childbirth), sometimes it is hard to see how it will alter things, both for the good and for ill. This is true with both good and bad events. Sometimes a bad event will lead to something good in the end. Sometimes a good event will lead to something bad in the end. I think that’s part of the apprehension when one of those Moments happens. Maybe we just don’t know how it will actually change things.

If you think I’m waxing more philosophical than usual, I’d have to say that this book gave me the opportunity to do so. This book starts out with two families, both husbands are cops, and they are neighbors in the suburbs. When tragedy strikes, it changes everything, and that change extends through generations of both families.

Let’s stop there for now. This book has some seriously tragic situations. There are always innocent victims, and this book had plenty of them. There were lots of victims who weren’t necessarily innocent, either, and yet they paid a steep price for mistakes they had made or actions they were witness to. I think one of the things I really enjoyed about this book is how real and raw it felt. There was serious difficulty encountered by all of the characters, albeit to different levels. No one was immune. I felt like this was a very realistic-feeling set-up. Too often in books it seems like just the main character suffers while everyone else is excluded from the drama. This just isn’t so. Even when a person isn’t necessarily personally involved in the drama, they are affected, especially if they were witness to it or related to those who were primarily involved. It’s so hard. Obviously this doesn’t mean that all people face the same level of trials and difficulties. No. Some people really have a hard time and it is disproportionate to what others have to face. However, I think it’s important to remember that each person is fighting their own fight.

This book had a lot of redemption in it, which I appreciated, and I really appreciated that the redemption was not all-encompassing. Some things just cannot be undone. However, how long does someone have to pay for a past mistake, no matter how grievous? That was certainly a question this book addressed, and as the reader you could feel yourself understanding and also making your own judgments about people and the comeuppance they received (or didn’t receive).

I enjoyed the writing in this book. The narrative style was quiet and moving in that it kept the story going without being overly flowery or excessive. I like books that just sweep you up into the world and take you with them. Slice of life books, like this one, are particularly well-done when you don’t feel like the writing is getting in the way of the story.

I really enjoyed this book, and I think it would be a good book club book because there is certainly a lot of discussion to be had. It walks that thin but delicious line of making it seem like the answers should be obvious, and yet they’re not. Keane does a great job of making us question our pre-conceived notions about punishment and blame and forgiveness. I love that. It’s one of the things that I love about reading—help me challenge what I think. Help me understand how another person thinks. Let me walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Yes.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and an incident of violence. There are also some mild discussions of sex. Overall I would say the content  is pretty standard for the genre.

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