Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Ask Again, Yes

This cover did not especially draw me in, shall we say. But all the blurbs by authors I admire sure did! Then, while reading the acknowledgments, I saw that  Mary Beth thanks Jeanine Cummins( author of upcoming AMERICAN DIRT) for all her encouragement. Well, that did it. I was all in.

The first thing I will say is that the writing is brilliant. This was not an easy novel to write. Keane dishes out mental illness and substance abuse with keen sensitivity.  After all, these are tough subjects to tackle. But she’s done it in a way that keeps everything in perspective even the violence.

The year is 1973. The place is NYC, the Bronx.  Two rookie cops begin their careers together and even though they end up moving to homes next door from one another outside the city, they never become close friends. Francis came over from Ireland and married Lena. Brian Stanhope married Anne who was Irish like Francis and right off the boat. Neither women became friends at all.  Lena and Francis went on to have three daughters. Anne and Brian lost their first son who was still born. They went on to have one more son, Peter.  Sounds like a pretty normal place, huh? Not so much. Lots of underlying angst.

Anne Stanhope began a slow decent into what we now know was madness.  Back in those days it was not spoken of above a whisper. So everyone tip-toed around Anne’s oddness.  Then, one day, it reared its ugly head and  the violence that spewed from it changed the world for two families.

Peter and Kate have been close friends for as long as anyone can remember. Kate is Francis and Lena’s youngest daughter. Anne hates Kate.  And one day when the two kids are in eighth grade  the violence erupts.

When Peter moves away from the neighborhood it doesn’t change how the two kids feel about each other. Over the years, these feelings burst into a fierce love that will not be denied.

Mary Beth Keane says that this is a contemporary saga of two suburban NY families.  She spoke in the New York Times about how her own husband has been estranged from his parents for years. And it was one of the seeds that this story grew from.

Each one of these characters are flawed, deeply. The story is told in multiple voices giving you great insight into their thoughts and feelings.  Most of us have known families who have dealt with mental illness or substance abuse, or both. No one is completely unscathed these days. Even though this is a tough subject, Keane makes you care about these people. You want them to push through, not to fail.

This is not a happy-go-lucky summer read. But it’s uplifting and satisfying in the end.

My review copy arrived from Simon and Schuster Publishers in exchange for an honest review. It’s quite simply superb. I look forward to Keane’s next novel!

Mary Beth Keane

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