Monday, October 21, 2019
Read by Molly Pope
Published May 2019 by Scribner
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library
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. Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting exploration of the 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. 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 haunted by echoes from the past, is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.
Many years ago, a neighbor came to my door to tell me that she couldn’t keep a school commitment she’d made because she was getting divorced. While I didn’t know her well, my husband knew her husband. He had no idea about the divorce. No one in the neighborhood, not one of the people who thought they knew this couple, had any idea that this husband was leaving his wife for “the other woman.” Jump forward twenty years and social media only serves to emphasis how little we really know about those we think we know and how little we actually talk about the truths of our lives.
Mary Beth Keane gets to the truth of her characters’ lives even as she reminds us how little we really know about even those to whom we are closest – how we often don’t know what has happened to a person in their past that will inform their future, how close to the breaking point a person might be, the crutches a person might be using to prop up their lives, the daily struggles just to put one foot in front of another every day.
As I have with so many books, I picked this one up after reading so many glowing reviews. But by the time I was able to listen to it, I’d completely forgotten what the book was about, for which I was grateful. Keane moves her forward in time, through different characters, often with leaps in time. We are allowed to see the growth of each character, often through another character's eyes; we are allowed to see them succeed and fail; we are allowed to fully see them, to judge them on the whole of their lives.
Keane has touched on so many themes in the book: gun violence, marital strife, mental illness, infidelity, substance abuse, family ties, abandonment, sexual assault, emotional scars, loss. All of it is seamlessly worked into a quiet novel about two families whose lives become irrevocably intertwined, much like a marriage for better or for worse. Mostly though, this is a thoughtful novel about forgiveness. There is not a character in this book who’s blameless; but there is also not a character in this book who is not capable of redemption. This one is going on the book club list.