Life Goes On:
Mary Beth Keane’s third novel Ask Again, Yes has been voted by several sites as one of the best books of 2019. A sprawling yet intimate epic about two families and a turbulent love story, it also takes a sympathetic look at mental illness.
The novel set in New York, covers the span of time from the late Sixties to the present. Beat cops together, Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope buy homes in the suburbs next to each other, but the former’s wife Lena fails at making friends with the latter’s wife Anne, who rudely rebuffs even simple neighbourly cordiality.
Lena gives birth to three daughters and the youngest, Kate, develops a close bond with Anne’s only son, Peter, which his mother frowns upon. Anne’s mental condition deteriorates to such an extent that she wrecks the lives of both families. Keane creates a complex character in Anne, whose past suffering impinges on her present and does not allow her to be happy. It is impossible to hate her for the pain she causes her own husband and son, and to the innocent people next door.
Kate and Peter’s love is strong enough to withstand the storms, but it is Lena’s devotion to Francis that is put to a heartbreaking test. The book, written from multiple points of view, is about loss, loyalty, guilt and redemption, as characters deal with the dud had fate dealt to them. The emotional highs and lows – some of them unpredictable– draw the reader into the story, and keep them gripped.
Ask Again, Yes
By Mary Beth Keane