Fiction/Literature

Ask Again, Yes: A Novel by Mary Beth Keane

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Ask Again, Yes – A profoundly moving novel about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the friendship between their children, a tragedy that reverberates over four decades, and the power of forgiveness.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are two NYPD rookies assigned to the same Bronx precinct in 1973. They aren’t close friends on the job, but end up living next door to each other outside the city. What goes on 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 stunning events to come.

Ask Again, Yes by award-winning author Mary Beth Keane, is a beautifully moving exploration of the friendship and love that blossoms between Francis’s youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian’s son, Peter, who are born six months apart. In the spring of Kate and Peter’s eighth grade year a violent event divides the neighbors, the Stanhopes are forced to move away, and the children are forbidden to have any further contact.

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But Kate and Peter find a way back to each other, and their relationship is tested by the echoes from their past. Ask Again, Yes reveals how the events of childhood look different when reexamined from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace, and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.

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Synopsis

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are two NYPD rookies assigned to the same Bronx precinct in 1973. They aren’t close friends on the job, but end up living next door to each other outside the city. What goes on 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 stunning events to come.

Ask Again, Yes is a beautifully moving exploration of the friendship and love that blossoms between Francis’s youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian’s son, Peter, who are born six months apart. In the spring of Kate and Peter’s eighth grade year a violent event divides the neighbors, the Stanhopes are forced to move away, and the children are forbidden to have any further contact. But Kate and Peter find a way back to each other, and their relationship is tested by the echoes from their past.

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Prologue

July 1973

Francis Gleeson, tall and thin in his powder blue policeman’s uniform, stepped out of the sun and into the shadow of the stocky stone building that was the station house of the Forty-First Precinct. A pair of pantyhose had been hung to dry on a fourth floor fire escape near 167th, and while he waited for another rookie, a cop named Stanhope, Francis noted the perfect stillness of those gossamer legs, the delicate curve where the heel was meant to be. Another building had burned the night before and Francis figured it was now like so many others in the Four-One: nothing left but a hollowed-out shell and a blackened staircase within. The neighborhood kids had all watched it burn from the roofs and fire escapes where they’d dragged their mattresses on that first truly hot day in June. Now, from a block away, Francis could hear them begging the firemen to leave just one hydrant open. He could imagine them hopping back and forth as the pavement grew hot again under their feet.

He looked at his watch and back at the station house door and wondered where Stanhope could be.

Eighty-eight degrees already and not even ten o’clock in the morning. This was the great shock of America, winters that would cut the face off a person, summers that were as thick and as soggy as bogs. “You whine like a narrowback,” his uncle Patsy had said to him that morning. “The heat, the heat, the heat.” But Patsy pulled pints inside a cool pub all day. Francis would be walking a beat, dark rings under his arms within fifteen minutes.

“Where’s Stanhope?” Francis asked a pair of fellow rookies also heading out for patrol.

“Trouble with his locker, I think,” one said back.

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of June 2019: Mary Beth Keane is a fantastic writer. She has the kind of authorial magic that makes her characters appear in the imagination as complete, fully realized human beings. They are alive—and Ask Again, Yes is about the entirety of those characters’ lives. Told in alternating chapters, the book is a domestic novel about two families who wind up living next door to one another in the 70s. Both of the fathers are cops working in the same precinct. They aren’t that close, but two of their children—Peter and Kate—develop a relationship. Peter and Kate provide the through line to the story, a line that is broken by a violent act. When they do reconnect they will spend the rest of their lives dealing with the fallout from their early years, as will their family members—as readers we will watch as their lives move from promise to actual experience to finally examining and understanding how it all happened. —Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review

Review

“A beautiful novel, bursting at the seams with empathy.”
Brianna Kovan, Elle

“Keane’s novel is a rare example of propulsive storytelling with profound insights about blame, forgiveness and abiding love.” —People Magazine

“A profound story… Keane’s gracefully restrained prose gives her characters dignity… shows how difficult forgiveness can be—and how it amounts to a kind of hard-won grace.” —Vogue

“Keane writes with acute sensitivity and characters are consistently, authentically lived-in. . . . smartly told.” –Entertainment Weekly

“I devoured this astonishing tale of two families linked by chance, love, and tragedy. Mary Beth Keane gives us characters so complex and alive that I find myself still thinking of them days after turning the final page. A must-read.”
—J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Saints for All Occasions

“Mary Beth Keane takes on one of the most difficult problems in fiction—how to write about human decency. In Ask Again, Yes, Keane creates a layered emotional truth that makes a compelling case for compassion over blame, understanding over grudge, and the resilience of hearts that can accept the contradictions of love.”
— Louise Erdrich, author of The Round House

“Ask Again, Yes is a powerful and moving novel of family, trauma, and the defining moments in people’s lives. Mary Beth Keane is a writer of extraordinary depth, feeling and wit. Readers will love this book, as I did.”
—Meg Wolitzer, author of The Female Persuasion

“Remarkable.”
Booklist

“Mary Beth Keane looks past the veneer that covers ordinary moments and into the very heart of real life. There’s a Tolstoyan gravity, insight, and moral heft in these pages, and Keane’s ability to plumb the depths of authentic feeling while avoiding sentimentality leaves one shaking one’s head in frank admiration. This wonderful book is so many things: a gripping family drama; a sensitive meditation on mental illness; a referendum on the power and cost of loyalty; a ripping yarn that takes us down into the depths and back up; in short, a triumph.” 
Matthew Thomas, author of We Are Not Ourselves

“Keane’s story embraces family lives in all their muted, ordinary, yet seismic shades… offers empathy and the long view… Tender and patient, the novel avoids excessive sweetness while planting itself deep in the soil of commitment and attachment. Graceful and mature. A solidly satisfying, immersive read.”
Kirkus (starred review) 

Originally published: 28 May 2019

AuthorMary Beth Keane

Genre: Coming-of-Age Fiction

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