Blog Tour Review: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Ask Again, Yes is about the inextricable links that form between two Irish-American policemen’s families in New York. Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope meet as cops on the same South Bronx beat in July 1973 and soon move upstate, settling in as close neighbors in the suburb of Gillam. After a stillbirth and a miscarriage, Brian and his wife Anne, who’s from Dublin, finally have a son, Peter. Six months later, Francis and Lena’s third daughter, Kate, is born; from the start it’s as if Peter and Kate are destined for each other. They’re childhood best friends, but then, like Romeo and Juliet, have to skirt around the animosity that grows between their families to be together as adults.

Anne’s mental health issues and the Stanhope family history of alcoholism will lead to explosive situations that require heroic acts of forgiveness. I ached for many characters in turn, especially Lena and Kate. The title sets up a hypothetical question: if you had your life to live again, knowing what the future held, would you have it the same way? Keane suggests that for her characters the answer would be yes, even if they knew about all the bad that was to come alongside the good. Impossible to write any more about the plot without giving too much away, so suffice it to say that this is a wrenching story of the ways in which we repeat our family’s mistakes or find the grace to move on and change for the better.

As strong as the novel’s characterization is, and as intricately as the storyline is constructed around vivid scenes, I found this a challenging read and had to force myself to pick it up for 20 pages a day to finish it in time for my blog tour slot. Simply put, it is relentless. And I say that even though I was reading a novel about a school shooting at the same time. There aren’t many light moments to temper the sadness. (Also, one of my pet peeves in fiction is here: skipping over 15 years within a handful of pages.) Still, I expect Keane’s writing will appeal to fans of Celeste Ng and Ann Patchett – the latter’s Commonwealth, in particular, came to mind right away.

My rating:

 


Ask Again, Yes was published by Michael Joseph (Penguin) on August 8th. My thanks to the publisher for the proof copy for review.

12 responses

  1. Well, I’m an Ann Patchett fan and loved Commonwealth but ‘relentless’ has put me off a bit. I’ve already seen mixed reactions to this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I found out about it via one of your preview posts. It could go either way for you; I’m not sure. Maybe a good one to sample first?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I did include it – an appealing idea but it sounds as if it’s a bit laboured. I do have a copy so I’ll have a flick through. Thanks for the warning!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, I too feel that this may not be the moment for me to accept the challenge of reading this just now. Life’s quite relentless enough already in the UK, non?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can quite understand that decision.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As you know, I loved Commonwealth (and liked Ng’s Everything I Never Told You), so this sounds intriguing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would be happy to pass on my proof copy to you. Either I’ll see you at a London event later in the year (Young Writer Award stuff, perhaps?) or I can post it to you as a Christmas treat.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you! I’m not involved in anything to do with the Young Writer Award but please don’t worry about posting it to me – I’m sure I’ll see you in London some time. I’ll be down a lot in the autumn term as I’m teaching at QMUL.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. i thought “Commonwealth!” after reading your first paragraph! Ha.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ha! Seems we all knew the “Commonwealth” comparison was coming. Ugh. Not sure I can do “relentless” right now. Fave read of the summer was Courtney Maum’s COSTALEGRE for being lovely and only a little relentless!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Not one for me, either – relentless doesn’t appeal. What a shame!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m not likely to read this just because there are so many others ahead of it, but I might be the only one here who wasn’t turned off by your description of it being relentless. Sometimes, I even like relentless. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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