Ask Again, Yes

- Mary Beth Keane

Goodreads Book Blurb:

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.


My Review:

enjoyable/easy to read:
An incredible story, this narrative follows two generations of two families that at one time were neighbours in the suburbs outside NYC. Both families have an Irish immigrant, members of the NYPD, and children who grow up and attend school together. Each family has their own struggles and secrets and one night they are connected by a violent, tragic act that changes the lives of everyone involved.

This is a story about loneliness, mental illness, addiction, tragedy, love, forgiveness, and, above all, family. Time feels very fluid, flowing over months or years and then settling to reveal more of the story. Maybe because of this, the characters can feel superficial at times. It sometimes feels as though you only get to spend a moment with one person before you’re moved along to the next or further along in the timeline.

Where Francis and Lena feel like a solid, well-matched couple, their neighbours Brian and Anne feel forced together. They avoid each other, spending more time alone than they do together or with their son Peter. Peter, always careful not to disturb the tense balance in the house, spends most of his time with Francis and Lena’s daughter Kate, causing Anne to feel irrationally jealous and lash out at those around her. As Anne’s mental stability unravels, Brian withdraws further and Peter becomes even more cautious and careful. After Anne lashes out, this careful balance is shattered and the two families are separated.

What follows is interesting, even if it is predictable. The unsung hero of this story is George, Brian’s younger brother and Peter’s uncle. It’s not clear until later just how much younger George is than Brian, making it all the more impressive how much he does for his family.

This story dips into a few too many cliches about addiction, mental health, and forgiveness for me to rate it higher than three stars. The following spoilers reveal serious plot points and I wouldn’t recommend opening them if you plan to read Ask Again, Yes.
It was way too easy for Anne to stick to her medication/routine once she was released to the halfway house. It seems unlikely after a life of abuse, fluctuating mental health, and violent actions that she would have remained steady for years and years. Also, Peter’s alcoholism was a silent problem for years but after one instance at work, he’s able to check into rehab, return to his life, and only slip up once in a very minor incident that didn’t require more treatment? And he just happened to find the perfect job right away after he couldn’t be a cop any more? So coincidental. Oh, and of course Lena totally forgives Francis for his infidelity after nursing him back to health. And Francis stumbles across Anne looking after his grandchildren and forgives her for shooting him all in one night.
These coincidences and platitudes added to the superficial feeling of the story. It kept me at arm’s length, never quite able to relax into the book and truly become absorbed in the characters and their stories. I wish there had been more depth as this was a great perspective on some big, important issues. It addresses that not only is it possible to seek help for addiction and mental illness but that as time passes, science and society evolve for even more effective treatment and social acceptance. This passage of time also allows for forgiveness, even for terrible mistakes that seem unforgiveable. It showed how real, honest love can help to overcome obstacles in a strong relationship, and how little we truly know others, whether they’re neighbours, co-workers, or partners.

It wasn’t that she didn’t love him, he knew. It was that she loved him so much that it frightened her, loved him so much that she worried she might have to protect herself from it. He tried to let her know that he’d figured that out, finally, that there was no need to explain, but then he realized that she might not know it herself.

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