Ask Again, Yes: A Novel

by Mary Beth Keane

Hardcover, 2019




Scribner (2019), Edition: 1ST, 400 pages


"A family saga about two Irish American families in a New York suburb, the love between two of their children, and the tragedies that threaten to tear them apart and destroy their futures"--


½ (452 ratings; 3.9)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Cariola
I haven't read a generational novel in quite a while, and I enjoyed this one. It starts out in the 1970s. Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are rookie NYC cops who partner for their first six weeks on the streets. Both have girlfriends they hope to marry soon. Francis was born in the US, taken
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back to Ireland, and returned to America at age 19. Brian's family came from Ireland "way back," but his girlfriend Anne is a more recent immigrant. Brian tells Francis that he hopes to buy a house in Gillam and raise his family away from the city. Fast forward: both are married and live next door to one another in Gillam. Francis and Lena have two girls and a third is on the way; Anne had a stillbirth and is expecting again. There's something not quite right about Anne. She rebuffs her neighbors' attempts to be friendly. After Lena drops off a baby swing and a loaf of bread that she baked, Anne bangs on the door and returns them, saying that if her baby needs anything, she can afford to buy it, and she can feed her family herself. After that, and after Brian is caught drinking on the job and is first demoted and then forced to retire early, the Gleesons pretty much ignore the family--except for their daughter Kate, who forms a strong bond with Peter Stanhope that never fades, even after a violent act separates the two families for years (and in the case of the parents, decades).

I don't want to give away too much. Suffice it to say that the rest of the book follows the effects of violence, mental illness, parenting, marriage, and parental models--both good and bad--on the two families. Kate and Peter become the main focus, and Keane does a fine job of portraying their lives both with and without one another. I whisked through this book in just a few days, which is a testament to how engaging it was.
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LibraryThing member whitreidtan
It seems pretty obvious to say that your family shapes you, that your experiences make you who you turn out to be. As obvious as it sounds, it is true. But people react to their same circumstances, their same raising, the same major events in their lives in very different ways because there are
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also things that are hard wired into us, that are coded on our genes, that have nothing to do with nurture and everything to do with nature. Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane is the story of two families, and more specifically, two children of these families, and how their lives and who they become depends so greatly on a shared tragedy.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are rookie NYC cops and partners for a brief time. Each is young and starting out in similar circumstances so it's not entirely surprising when they each move to the suburbs and end up as next door neighbors. Lena Gleeson tries to befriend Anne Stanhope but Anne keeps her at arms length, even after the Gleeson's third daughter, Kate, and the Stanhope's son, Peter, are born within six months of each other. The two families could not be more different and Anne is unhappy about Peter's growing friendship with Kate but the two have a bond that cannot be broken by something as weak as parental disapproval. Lena worries about their friendship as well, but for entirely different reasons than Anne does. And eventually their friendship starts to morph into a tentative something more until one night something happens that shatters both families.

Spanning four decades, this is a novel about life trajectories and intersections, mental illness, alcoholism, desertion, and forgiveness. The beginning of the story gives some insight into the Gleeson and Stanhope families but the narrative only focuses on the inside of the Gleeson family, leaving Peter to share (or hide) the incomplete inner workings of his own family with Kate. The change in character focus illuminates Francis, Lena, Kate, and Peter, but leaves Brian and Anne mostly as shadowy ciphers. The bulk of the story follows Peter and Kate in the years after they were neighbors and the impact their youthful relationship and their shared tragedy had in shaping them and their futures. There was a lot going on in the novel and quite a few issues touched on within these two families, but chief among them was forgiveness and its price. The book was a slow read and unhappiness leached out of many of the characters giving it a depressed tone most of the way through although there was ultimately some redemption, some sense of overcoming and acceptance. Keane handles the tension of the novel well, keeping it rising, even after the event that drives the latter two thirds of the book. There is a measure of predictability here but the characters are more the focus than the plot, except in the one catastrophic instance. Fans of character driven, family dysfunction novels will find much to satisfy them here.
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LibraryThing member clp412
4.5 Stars. I was fully invested in these characters the whole time. I am still thinking about them and wanting more so I know this was a good book. To me this book represents life, the relationship with Kate and Peter showed the most changes, growth, for good and for the challenging parts. Peter's
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character was one that stuck out to me the most, and how life was not handed to him, but there were successes. I liked how much character development there was in numerous characters. To me the ending was the authors choice to end the book and I fully support it. No spoilers, I am sure others wanted the ending to be different, but the last few pages will stick with me. Overall this is a book that made me think about how throughout all the ups and downs, people can still be grateful for how lucky they had been in life even if lucky isn't the same for all.
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LibraryThing member JosephKing6602
Truly magnificient !!! The best novel i have read in a long time; about an irish family with issues we can all relate to. Very enjoyable and impactful.
LibraryThing member Beamis12
For a short time they were partners, Francis and Brian, two cops from the same precinct. Then they moved their families to the same neighborhood, across the street from each other. Brian's only son and Francis's youngest daughter grow up best friends. Then something terrible happens that will
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divide these two family's for decades.

Domestic fiction can be tricky to write, to find the right tone. This novel got it pretty neat to right. Although many dramatic occurrences happen, the tone is not overly dramatic, in fact at times I felt it was rather cool. I prefer it that way. When I read a book that is overly dramatic in it's telling, I always compare it to a soap opera. I don't watch them and I certainly don't want to read them. The way this was told, the story itself seemed very realistic. This could happen and may have, somewhere.

It deals with some important issues as well. Alcoholism and it's effect on a family, mental illness and the lack of options in the seventies. A time when what happened in a family was supposed to stay in the family. Forgiveness and regret, and what we will do for those we love. Abandonment and responsibilty, how the lingering effects sometimes takes years but unresolved issues will eventually read it ugly head.

I enjoyed the changing faces of these characters, their growth as people, people who can at last acknowledge their own parts in the events that occur. Things don't happen in a vacuum as this book so adequately displays.

ARC from Edelweiss.
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LibraryThing member shelleyraec
For a brief period during the summer of 1973, Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope were rookie partners on the force, several years later they are neighbours in the suburbs, married and raising young children. While the adults, Frankie and Lena, Brian and Anne, are never more than acquaintances, and
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barely that, their youngest children, Peter and Kate are the best of friends, until tragedy tears them apart.

Despite the enforced separation, Peter and Kate eventually find their way back to one another, determined to build a future together. Yet no one truly escapes their past.

Ask Again, Yes is a thoughtful and powerful exploration of family, marriage and relationships. A story of mental illness, addiction, loyalty, dysfunction, redemption and hope, told with nuance and realism. Keane examines the consequences of inaction, action and reaction, of decisions small and large, and the way in which they reverberate into the future.

The characters are complex and dynamic. The Stanhope’s grappling with dysfunction, matters of conscience, and regrets, the Gleeson’s with loss, forgiveness and acceptance. Peter, abandoned and aimless, and Kate never quite feeling whole, until they are reunited, both of them certain that together they have the strength to overcome all obstacles. A resolve that is tested as the past exerts it’s influence on the present.

A sensitive, poignant, and pensive novel, Ask Again, Yes inspires introspection, compassion and hope.
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LibraryThing member bookchickdi
I read Mary Beth Keane's first novel The Walking People about the Irish immigrants in New York City who spent their days digging the subway tunnels. Her second novel, Fever, recounted the story of the Irish immigrant who became known as Typhoid Mary and was quarantined on an island off of New York
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City, and it is an astonishing piece of literature.

So I was excited to hear that she has written a third novel, Ask Again, Yes, which is also about Irish immigrants. Two young Irish cops, Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, join the police force at the same time in 1970s New York City. They also end up moving next door to each other in a commuter town in upstate New York and start their families.

Francis and his wife Lena have three daughters, the youngest one Kate the same age as Brian and his wife Anne's son Peter. Lena attempts to befriend Anne, but Anne keeps to herself and Lena has her hands full with her three girls. Francis prefers to keep his distance from his former partner Brian, but the reader doesn't know why.

Soon it becomes clear that Anne has mental health issues, and Brian seems ill-equipped to handle them. Peter and Kate become closer, but Peter hides his mother's outbursts from Kate. A terrible tragedy devastates both families, and Peter moves away.

Peter's life becomes very different, and he falls out of touch with Kate, but she is never off his mind. We see what happens as they grow into adults, and come to terms with their feelings for each other.

Keane's novels fill the reader with all kinds of emotions, and never more so than in Ask Again, Yes. You feel like these characters are so real, so full of humanity, and you care deeply for them. My favorite character is Peter's uncle George, who does his best to help his nephew navigate a new life, even though he himself is young and not a parent. I just fell in love with George. ( I got to meet Mary Beth Keane recently at the Book Expo and I told her how much I adored George and she said she loved him too.)

The characters face problems that befall many- mental health issues, alcoholism, serious illness- and they draw strength from their family relationships. They are not perfect, they stumble and fall, and one main character just had me so full of anger. Keane's writing is just exquisite.

I can't say enough good about Ask Again, Yes except to tell you that you must read this book. It is perhaps the best book I have read this year, and one of my coworkers and I spent a long time gushing over it recently. You know a book is great when you spend time thinking about the various characters and wondering where they are now. Mary Beth Keane can't write books fast enough for me.
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
Even the most normal families are complicated. There are always issues between siblings, parents, and all those skeletons in the closet. Now imagine if you throw in another family, mental illness, alcoholism, and violence and you've got the potential for a fabulous story. Mary Beth Keane has
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written a novel that spans multiple generations of two families, whose lives are intertwined by a tragic act of violence, and weaves a beautiful story about family, love, and forgiveness.

This would be a fantastic selection for a book club!
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LibraryThing member Nancyjcbs
The Stanhopes and Gleesons are suburban next door neighbors and both husbands are NYC police officers. They have little else in common in the beginning of the story. As years go by the Stanhopes have one son, Peter and the Gleesons have three daughters. The youngest daughter, Kate, and Peter are
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best friends from an early age.

A tragedy occurs one night that tears apart both families and leaves their lives changed. Ask Again, Yes follows the Gleesons and Stanhopes for the next thirty years.

I'm at a loss as to whether or not I'd recommend Ask Again, Yes to others. But I loved every quiet minute of my reading. This is a drama of a normal family. Their love, loss, troubles are so beautifully presented. The book is moving, emotional and well written. If you're looking for extremes this is not the book. If you're looking for extraordinary normalcy, do read it.
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LibraryThing member Prairieblossom
Spanning four decades it examines the lives of two men who met at the New York police academy and were partners for a few weeks in the early 1970s.

We are given a few clues about their different personalities and how those traits will determine their futures. Those clues are subtle. Most will only
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become obvious upon refection after the book is finished.

Both couples move to the suburbs and start their own families. They are neighbours and we get to compare and contrast their lives. Francis and Leena Gleeson have three daughters while Brian and Anne struggle with miscarriages and eventually have a son.
Brian and Anne's son, Peter, and Francis and Lena's daughter, Kate, are inseparable. They embody the best and worst traits of their parents and we see glimpses of these traits being handed down to the next generation as well.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, mental health problems were not often recognised and if recognised not taken seriously. Anne's failing mental health and the problems it causes for both families is central to the story and led me to ask all sorts of what-if questions such as what if Anne had been diagnosed and treated earlier, what if her symptoms had been taken seriously, what if Brian had acknowledged the problems in his life instead of turning a blind eye in order to live a quiet life.

I found this book made me ask those serious questions without the book itself becoming overly profound or too earnest. It could be read as a simple multi-generational love story where a couple faces trials and tribulations but get together and stay together for a lifetime but I found it was deeper than that, it asked questions and required me to think about the solutions.
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LibraryThing member chasidar
I really enjoyed this book. Well written, told well, engaging characters.
LibraryThing member nicx27
I hardly know where to begin to review this book. I think it's one that will keep coming back to me over the next few days, so immersed in the characters' lives was I.

It's the story of the Gleesons and the Stanhopes. Both families live in New York but have Irish backgrounds. Francis Gleeson and
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Brian Stanhope are both cops. Both families have young children. They live on the same street in Gillam, upstate New York. It seems like they're all bound to be great friends, linked as they are by a short period of time when the two men worked closely together. However, it quickly becomes clear that here we have two families who are following a similar path and yet on that path is a fork leading one set of people one way and the others in another direction entirely.

A shocking incident is the event that cements that division. However, Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope, the youngest/only children of the families have a bond, a friendship and maybe something more that might just endure.

This is very much a character led story. There is a plot but it's much more a slice of life story, a look at family life and how those families deal with all that is thrown at them. It's also a thought-provoking story of how much what happens in childhood can ripple down over the years, how the same mistakes can be made and whether that is down to nature or nurture.

Despite some of the turmoil contained within the pages, this is actually what I would call a quiet book. It's kind of steady and really quite beautifully written. It's a slow read, and I say that not in a derogatory way, but in that it's one which requires concentration, one that needs focus. It took me a little longer to read than I expected but I don't for one minute regret the time I spent on it. The slice of life feel to it is enhanced by the ending which doesn't exactly feel like a conclusion, more just a point in the characters' lives where the author decided to stop writing about them. Again, this is not a criticism at all - it works.

Ask Again, Yes is an impressive tale of family and what it means. It has characters that I was rooting for, was hopeful for, and ultimately it's an uplifting story of love, humanity and solidarity. I enjoyed it very much indeed.
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LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
An excellent 4-generation novel. Each generation learns from the previous one, but some mistakes are repeated.
LibraryThing member shazjhb
The beginning of the book was amazing but it fell a little flat near the end. Good story, interesting characters, and unusual situations
LibraryThing member deslivres5
A story of two families, the Gleesons and the Stanhopes, spanning 40+ years in NYC. From the fathers, Francis and Brian starting out as coworkers on the NY Police Department to their families intersecting in unimaginable ways over the years. Most characters are sympathetic, although they might not
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start out seeming so. Loved the journey!
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LibraryThing member pgchuis
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley.

I am quitting this at 16% - it is just so depressing. Lena and Anne and their police officer husbands live next door to each other. Lena keeps having babies and feels lonely. Francis, her husband, doesn't really communicate with her
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and finds his job stressful. Anne has miscarriages and clearly has (at the very least) mental health problems and parents her son Peter poorly. Her husband is thus far a bit of a closed book, but I'm not really warming to him either.

It is just very sad and I can't bring myself to read on.
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LibraryThing member Othemts
This novel begins in 1973 when recent Irish immigrant Francis Gleeson falls into becoming a cop and meets Brian Stanhope, an American-born child of Irish immigrants, at the police academy. They are paired on there first beat in the Bronx for a few summer weeks, and share their dreams, although they
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don't become particularly close. Francis marries a Polish-Italian woman named Lena and they settle down in a quiet (fictional) suburban town north of New York called Gillam. Shortly afterwards, Brian and his newlywed Irish immigrant wife Anne move into the neighboring house.

Lena makes every effort to reach out to Anne as a neighbor, but Anne is at first reserved, and then outright antagonistic. Lena gives birth to three daughters in quick succession. After a couple of miscarriages, Anne gives birth to a son, Peter. Despite, the coldness between the two families, Peter and the Gleeson's youngest daughter Kate become best friends. And then in 1991, when the kids are on the verge of graduating middle school, they share that have romantic feelings for one another. On the same of night, an act of violence permanently changes the lives of both families.

The bulk of the novel follows that night in 1991 up to the present day focusing on the lives of all six of these characters as they struggle with their past. Kate and Peter reunite in college and eventually marry, to the disappointment and befuddlement of their parents. I found the childhood lovers still devoted to one another as adults hard to swallow, and this book also has a number of the coincidences that only occur in literature. Setting that aside though, the book is an excellent character study that examines generational trauma that contributes to depression, alcoholism, infidelity, and mental illness. It also is a story of compassion, where the characters learn to recognize that people are not their worst actions.
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LibraryThing member indygo88
It's the 1970's and Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope meet while attending police academy in NYC. While acquaintances, they're not necessarily friends, but they do eventually become next door neighbors in a New York suburb as they raise their families. Francis is the father of three girls, while
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Brian and his wife suffer a miscarriage but then raise a single son. Their son, Peter, becomes best friends with the Gleeson's youngest daughter, Kate. As the two youngsters reach their teenage years, their relationship begins to evolve into more than just friendship. Meanwhile, a tragic event involving both families ensures that the relationship between the Gleesons and the Stanhopes will never be the same.

It's hard to review this novel without going into a lot of detail, which would give a lot of the plot away. But it's a multi-faceted story which spans several decades, exploring how both people and relationships grow, change, and constantly evolve. It was well-written, and a story that I wanted to continuously come back to. Great for discussion as well, as it ultimately makes the reader examine their own feelings, asking oneself "What would I do in this situation?" Great choice for book club.
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LibraryThing member janismack
Deeply affecting exploration of the lifelong friendship and love of Peter and Kate. Recommended.
LibraryThing member DonnaMarieMerritt
I liked it. I did. It was well-written and I'd recommend checking it out of the library. But some things didn't add up for me. At one point a character is easily a phone call away for an emergency (even though another character would have been a more logical contact in the situation). A few
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chapters later, the same character can only be reached by phone at work (and I'm not sure how that was even relevant anyway). One person—who was clearly to blame for a tragedy—never has to admit to guilt or face the facts (which, I suppose, happens in real life, but it bothered me). The entire story was decades long, but it wrapped up far too quickly in the end.
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LibraryThing member ML923
This novel focused on the love story of childhood sweethearts and was a very touching read.
LibraryThing member mplantenga11
This was a good book but I felt like it was always missing something. I still can't point to what that is specifically, but it just feels unfinished. The plot line was good and I enjoyed seeing into the thoughts of each character throughout the book. Overall, a good read.
LibraryThing member pegmcdaniel
This is my first novel by Mary Beth Keane and it's about relationships between two families throughout several decades. It truly is a domestic drama about Irish immigrants and their struggles. Ms. Keane does a great job with her characters who are decent people, fully human with flaws. These
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characters have stayed with me because I felt like I could have known any of them, especially the police officers since my husband is a retired police officer.

Issues such as mental illness and alcoholism were discussed throughout this moving and emotional novel. After a tragedy divides neighbors, the characters try to go on with their lives as best they can. We learn how there are always second chances and forgiveness. I found myself constantly routing for things to work out for all of them.

My only complaint is that the pace seemed to be slow during the last one-third of this novel.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Kate and Peter grew up next door to each other, always having known each other. By the time they're finishing middle school, that friendship of proximity has become a real bond. Despite both having fathers who were police officers and both having a parent who emigrated from Ireland, their
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upbringings were very different. Kate had a large, rowdy, loving family, of which she is the youngest of three daughters. Pete is the only child of an alcoholic and he spends his childhood simultaneously caring for and protecting himself from his mentally ill mother. Events one night send Kate's father to the hospital and break apart Peter's family for good. But despite the distance between them and the disapproval of their families, Kate and Peter decide to marry and start a family together.

This novel is about families and how it's impossible to shed oneself of their influence. It's about how mental illness and alcoholism can be inherited, how hope and love are not always enough and especially about forgiveness and about how facing the past, or not doing so, affects the future. This book reminded me of novels by both Ann Patchett and Anne Tyler. This is a straightforward story, but Keane allows for nuance and is experienced enough an author to allow insights and complexities to be revealed in a single, seemingly unimportant sentence, and she trusts the reader enough to not repeat herself. There are no easy happy ends here, but there are grace notes and moments where hope is allowed to flourish.
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LibraryThing member Penny_L
I can easily see why it is touted as One of the Best Books of the Year.
I was completely enamored by the writing style and story! This saga spans decades, and veins into each of the characters stories told from their perspective.
The book has a nicely sectioned timeline making the plot easy to
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follow as it segues into each phase of the characters lives.
Captivating and full of detail this medium paced novel is a meaty and rewarding read.
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1982106980 / 9781982106980
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