Ask Again, Yes Mary Beth Keane (2019)
Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope meet in the police academy in New York City in the early 1970s. After they each marry, they end up buying adjoining houses in a leafy suburb, commuting to the city to pursue their cop careers. This could become a pretty idyllic tale, especially when Kate, one of Francis’s three daughters, forms a deep childhood friendship with Peter, Brian’s only child. But mental illness is no respecter of happy endings.
We know from the start that Brian’s wife, Anne, is unconventional and taciturn, and Brian “always seemed to want to defuse things by agreeing with her.” (73) After Anne loses a baby, her mental state becomes dangerously explosive. (A word of warning that Anne’s turn to violence results in a distressing scene, though it’s very brief.) Anne’s actions have long-term consequences for both families: the teenage Kate and Peter are torn apart, and adult careers are shattered.
The novelist gives her story a long arc of many decades and handles it with sensitivity. Anne is not cast as a villain but rather as a suffering soul whose mental illness needs treatment, not contempt. Her actions are hurtful to others, physically and emotionally, but these actions don’t arise out of malice.
Despite the difficult subject matter, the tone of the novel is steady and even, probing family interactions with subtlety, holding the attachment of Kate and Peter as a spark of hope.
What about that title? The phrase “Ask again, yes” is plucked from an exchange, late in the book, between Kate and Peter, and it hints, from the time that you first see the cover, that they may eventually be reunited. Other than that, I didn’t find the title particularly illuminating. Still, my need to learn how life turned out for the members of the Gleeson and Stanhope families kept me moving from chapter to chapter in this immersive, well-wrought novel.