Ask Again, Yesby Published 28 May 2019
|Ask Again, Yes.pdf|
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.
Ask Again, Yes Reviews
heads up to whom it may concern: this book is primo book club bait. in general, the best book club choices are ones with juicy conflicts at their centers which inspire strong, differing, politely expressed opinions from your assembled booknerds. and the best of these have an extra component—they allow the reader a sort of peripheral empathy; taking recognizable, relatable issues like illness, marital/job stress, disputes with the neighbors, etc, and then dramatically inflating them into situations one hopes never to have to live through, providing that “there but for the” shiver.
the publisher's synopsis seems to want to keep its secrets, so i'll play along and summarize in the broadest terms: it’s about two families and one verybad night that changes the course of their lives for decades to come. and the specifics of this dramatically inflated situation, and all of its ripple effects, are sure to inspire some wide-ranging booknerd opinions.
it has all of the things that breed discussion—nuanced characters with complicated relationships given years to develop and adjust, and to confront life’s myriad challenges: infidelity, addiction, mental illness, abandonment, loneliness, regret—all of the meaty woes of life. but it’s also a first love story, with a bit of a romeo and juliet edge, although in this case, the capulet’s disapproval of their kid’s romantic choice is totally legit. awkward thanksgivings for sure.
it’s an engrossing and insightful story of human relationships and growth and forgiveness, but it’s not schmaltzy and sentimental like so many books of its kind. i liked it. maybe your book club will like it.
but don't take my word for it—there’s actually a literary litmus test for IS THIS A BOOK CLUB BOOK?
IS THIS A BOOK CLUB BOOK?
does it look like this?
does it look like this?
does it look like this?
I THINK IT IS A BOOK CLUB BOOK!!!
come to my blog!
Lying in my bed at night, after finishing this book, I found myself unwilling audience to a seethe of objectionable thoughts about the story, like watching a flickering home movie projected into a makeshift screen. My mind refused to release me to oblivion, and, although the ending brings to mind the setting of one’s soul at ease and the wheeling of stars into alignment once again, I turned the last page feeling heavier with what I knew. I still do.
So, what’s this book about?
Brian Stanhope and Francis Gleeson are friends, but perhaps “friends” is an inaccurate word to use. They moved into neighboring homes in the small town of Gillam with their respective new brides, Anne and Lena, but mainly were thrown together by the fact that they were both rookie cops in a tough Bronx precinct—a situation which, at the time, did not seem necessarily unpropitious. Francis’s youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian’s only son, Peter, sought true friendship in the golden harbor of each other’s arms, but tragedy found them first. Violence and towering rage were like a leak that stole all the air from their homes, and soon, a final invisible mooring line snapped, and Kate and Peter are both cast adrift.
Years later, Kate and Peter are still rummaging the dark, and each other, for happiness, spitting the past out behind them and throwing themselves into the future. But once unearthed, there was no containing the memories, and they are soon being hunted by all the sorrows they had collected over the years—their whole arsenal, turned against them. Kate and Peter will soon find out that tragedies do not immunize you against further tragedies, misfortune doesn’t get scattered around in fair proportions, and the past could become a stone that quickly drags you to the depths when “you repeat what you do not repair.”
The plot of Ask Again, Yes, for a while, has some trouble catching flight, but as the families’ tragedy is dragged to the fore, the depth of the author’s storytelling prowess unveils itself. There’s a vicious grace and a soul-baring emotional honesty to the novel, and Keane has deftly crafted a masterly wrought diorama full of realistically rendered relationships and tensions, observations about family, the ties that bind mothers and sons even through years of separation, and the ways love ferments in the airless conditions of unaddressed trauma. The author invites us into the low-lit corners of every household at those tremulous moments in which the whole human condition is suddenly within reach, if heartbreakingly so, and the story she tells, as strange in its specificity as it is, remains universal in its familiarity.
One of the novel’s most poignant successes is the way Keane challenges her readers—and characters—by offering a myriad of angles on the events, and infusing each with enough complexity to make them lodge themselves in the reader’s mind. The tragedy that has befallen the Gleeson and Stanhope families is disinterred throughout the novel, reexamined and re-discussed. Loose threads are picked out of every version and efforts are made to knit it all together in order to make a single, comprehensible tale. Sometimes those threads leave gaps too wide to be darned, making all that has unfolded devoid of a clear rhyme and reason.
Keane lets every character speak for themselves, and allows the reader to eavesdrop on the layered complications of their hearts, and decide which character should capture their allegiance. She never ignores their faults, their achingly human proneness to self-justification, but she also captures their longing to be kind, and despite myself, I often suffered a deep pang of sympathy for them. That’s what good storytelling does—it transforms a character from a tangential sketch into a human being, links “us” to “them.” If there's a fault to be found here is that the novel's inhabitants could emote more effusively. More often than not, they come off as silent, set apart from the violence of their emotions. That's not enough, however, to put a serious dent in the novel's spell.
Ask Again, Yes is irreversibly sanguine; but it isn’t the easiest read. It's a dark, disturbing book; and as you read the novel, it is impossible to dislodge a sense of foreboding from your mind—the feeling like seeing a shark’s fin vanishing beneath the waves. We do not so much wonder what might happen as worry about what will happen. That haunted atmosphere permeates every page, and I could feel the dread stirring in me like ash as Kate and Peter stubbornly carry the hopelessness none of them would utter before them, hoping for the other to filch it away.
Ask Again, Yes is more than just another story about a family with little to offer but a sad history. There's plenty of nuance, dimension and empathy to Keane’s novel. Ask Again, Yes provides a potently visceral portrait of what it’s like to live with mental illness, while delicately probing the long-lasting repercussions of its non-treatment. The layered narrative across the decades shows how attitudes towards mental illness are changing for the better—but we still have a long way to go.
At the novel’s heart also lurks the certainty that the things one is made to endure in childhood could not be undone and would steer their fates for many years to come, that the pain suffered in youth is bound to leave a rotten place, like a bruise on fruit, somewhere on one's soul. "The beginning of one’s life matters the most,” writes Keane, “life is top-heavy that way." Even so, Ask Again, Yes, wades through the darkness with heart. Hope makes an appearance (or, if anything, the last stage before hope becomes attainable). Hope that no matter how far you travel away from your loved ones, it’ll come a day when you will make out each other’s silhouettes again. That you may have given each other wounds, but they are not always mortal.
“Things are better now, they feel like they’re getting better—don’t they? But there might be more coming. This might be the least of it. Have you thought about that? We knew nothing about what it meant to grow up, to be partners, parents, all of it. Nothing. And maybe we still don’t. Would you have said yes back then if you’d known?”
“But I know now. So ask me.”
But he couldn’t find the right words. “I’ll give you a hint,” she said, squeezing his hands until he looked up to meet her eyes. “Then and now, I say yes.”
Ask Again, Yes is a hugely sensitive and deeply humanizing story about the never-ending ache of love and loss. Not to be missed!
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Book of the Month selection June 2019
"The thing is, Peter, grown-ups don't know what they're doing any better than kids do. That's the truth."
You've seen this book around before. You know the one I'm talking about; it's got an aesthetically pleasing blue-green cover, boasts of domestic drama and in-depth character study of the darker side of families, while promising the reader that they will experience a grand range of emotion by the time the final page is turned. These books are one thing, pure and simple: book club bait. While I always fall for the cover, the inside of such books rarely leaves a longterm impression on me, because it is truly difficult for a book that follows the same procedure and format as every other in its genre to attain a memorable status in my internal hard drive. Yes, this book did follow that formula, remaining fairly predictable, but for some reason these characters were quite enticing, and the author did leave an impression that kept me thinking about these characters well after finishing their story.
I can't help but loosely compare this book to the likes of Liane Moriarty, because I had a similar reading experience while working through Ask Again, Yes as I did when I picked up Big Little Lies. Years ago, I joined an online bookclub with my sister and the first month we participated, we were discussing BLL. It was long, and I was intimidated, and the beginning portions were incredibly slow, so much so that I almost tossed the book and told Irina she was on her own. ;) I'm really glad she encouraged me to stick with it, because once I was fully invested in the characters, I began to breeze through and consider it one of the first books to help me embrace the lighter side of the mystery genre. AAY has a very similar setup-slow burning intro while we get acquainted with the characters, and then we steadily speed up once a few "things" begin to happen.
There are many, many emotional aspects to this story, and for the most part it's very sad and mildly heavy, but the ending was done so well that it kept my final verdict as hopeful, while teaching me where to be grateful. The characters of both families suffer tremendously in various ways over the years, and some of the reasons are based on their choices, but most of the outcomes are results of unexpected circumstances, which gave a tense, straining sensation as the story unfolds. If you enjoy family sagas that feature coming-of-age in less than ideal circumstances, you may want to give this one a try for yourself. Some of the buzz-worthy topics included are mental health, addiction, cancer, and how tragedy affects all sorts of relationships, such as married couples and parents/children. Those are some tough issues to cover, but this book does so in very mild ways, with little to no graphic content, and mainly just in being referred to prior to an event or as a memory. The possible discussions that will spur from reading this book are endless, and I cannot wait to see how the general public reacts to Ask Again, Yes once it's released.
*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my review copy.
This is one of those books that, as I pondered writing this review, I have changed my rating from a 4 to a 5. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how incredibly strong the characters in this book are, I finished it last week and I’m still thinking about them., all of them. If you love strong character driven books, you will love this one! I had a bit of believability issues with one of the main characters but it doesn’t take away from the entire body of work.
From the blurb you know that this novel is about two neighboring families, both husbands are policemen who started out as rookies on the NYPD force. The book is told from several points of view which I think greatly improved my understanding of how the individuals felt and acted.
Francis Gleeson has had a great career, he is strong willed, intelligent, diligent and yet with his family he has an incredible soft touch. He is the first to move to this new suburb, he, his wife and two daughters are doing well individually and as a family, although Lena is at times lonely and would like a larger life outside the home.
Within months Brian and Anne move in next door to the Gleeson’s. Brian and Francis are not close friends at this point, but they are friendly. Anne is quite a different matter, she does not go out of her way to befriend the Gleesons and keeps to her house much of the time. Later, both Anne and Lena have children only six months apart, Peter and Kate, who are immediately bonded to each other even as little friends. Their story will play a huge part in the novel.
A terrible incident occurs which changes the lives of everyone in both families, it is tragic, horrific and probably could have been avoided. The Stanhopes are forced to move away. I would not spoil this novel for anyone by giving away anything more.
This is a book that I couldn’t wait to get back to and finished in two days. This story hits all the emotional buttons, happiness, extreme sadness, frustration, hope, love and forgiveness. We are taken through the lives of these families who handle the tragedy in very different ways. The plot flows very well and is extremely well thought out. We really get to know these people, this is the first book this year that has touched me in this way.
Buy the book, read it, ponder what you would do in this situation and you won’t be disappointed.
As an afterthought, I did read The Walking People, by this author many years ago and it was excellent, so if you enjoy this one, go back and read the other.
I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher through Edelweiss.
The cover of this book is remarkable and behind the cover is a remarkable book. At first glance, the cover appears to be an example of a painting technique known as impasto (I think). Closer scrutiny reveals a typical suburban neighborhood that could be Anywhere, USA. And so it is with this novel. At first glance, Ask Again, Yes seems to be an American dream or coming of age novel and in some ways it is but beneath these obvious themes lie much more. A violent act leaves two families forever changed and another event leaves them forever linked. You will live the decades of these characters’ lives right along with them. Mental illness, stoicism, alcoholism, achievement, love and forgiveness mark this marvelous novel and the author treats her characters with great tenderness. You won’t forget them.