Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane is an ambitious novel about regret, mistakes and forgiveness. It’s not as impactful as I expected but there are some memorable scenes.
This is one of those novels that receive plenty of buzz. The good is obvious—awareness of the novel and more purchasing chances. But sometimes when a book is talked about so much—it’s hard to match the expectations. And while I did find the book interesting, it was lacking in some areas for me.
Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, 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. Lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope, born six months apart. One shocking night their loyalties are divided, and their bond will be tested again and again over the next 40 years.
Slow burn read
From Little Fires Everywhere to A Place For Us, I do really enjoy a slow burn read (aka literary fiction). Oftentimes, I see criticism of these types of novels is when people complain not much really happens. And that’s not exactly accurate as usually there’s some huge, traumatic event and the novels follow the before, the event itself and the consequences. But much of the before and after, is kind of quiet—and that’s definitely the point. However, the key with these kinds of reads is that you need at least one character that you care about.
And this brings me back to Ask Again, Yes. Of all the characters, I was most interested in Peter’s storyline. But with key scenes and developments, oftentimes the reader finds out about it after the fact. For instance, the love story between Kate and Peter—a good portion happens off the pages. Time moves really fast in this story and I felt perplexed as to why we (the readers) weren’t able to be there for major scenes. There’s many characters in this story and the viewpoint can switch even on one page. There was one character in particular I felt could have had a reduced role, as far as narration, while still having an impact.
Moving on from character focus, the story does center on the very relevant theme of forgiveness. There are some intense, sad and engaging scenes in this book. Honestly, this one is really more sad oftentimes than not. Characters are cruel and hurt each other (both physically and emotionally). But a story about forgiveness is always important. There are some scenes in this novel that truly are heart-wrenching. With these quiet books, just a simple gesture or (lack thereof) can have such a huge influence on the reader.
It also really tests what one can tolerate and how many times they can forgive the same person—even if they are family. It shows how strong people can be. Forgiveness is not weak but a strength in this book.
I’ve seen people love this novel and others strongly dislike it. I’m in the middle—I liked it and there are powerful sections. That said, some of the writing choices and focus on different characters did take away from the story for me.
Final thoughts: for those who enjoy literary fiction and slow burn reads, this is one to add to your list. If those are not books you gravitate towards, there are plenty of other books that you should check out. If you do pick this one up, your book club will have a TON to discuss. Click here for my book club questions.