A profoundly moving novel about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the friendship between their children, a tragedy that reverberates over four decades, and the power of forgiveness.
Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are two NYPD rookies assigned to the same Bronx precinct in 1973. They aren’t close friends on the job, but end up living next door to each other outside the city. What goes on 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 stunning events to come.
Ask Again, Yes by award-winning author Mary Beth Keane, is a beautifully moving exploration of the friendship and love that blossoms between Francis’s youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian’s son, Peter, who are born six months apart. In the spring of Kate and Peter’s eighth grade year a violent event divides the neighbors, the Stanhopes are forced to move away, and the children are forbidden to have any further contact.
But Kate and Peter find a way back to each other, and their relationship is tested by the echoes from their past. Ask Again, Yes reveals how the events of childhood look different when reexamined from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace, and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.
“I devoured this astonishing tale of two families linked by chance, love, and tragedy. Mary Beth Keane gives us characters so complex and alive that I find myself still thinking of them days after turning the final page. A must-read.” —J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Saints for All Occasions
“Mary Beth Keane is at the height of her powers in this novel about the sacrifices we make when we choose to build a life with someone. In Ask Again, Yes Keane tells a story about the fragility of happiness, the violence lurking beneath everyday life, and, ultimately, the power of love. If you’ve ever loved someone beyond reason, you will love this wise, tender, and beautiful book.” —Eleanor Henderson, author of Ten Thousand Saints
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Mary Beth Keane was born in the Bronx to Irish parents and grew up in Rockland County, New York. She attended Barnard College and the University of Virginia, where she received an MFA in Fiction. In 2011, she was named one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35,” and in 2015 she was awarded a John S. Guggenheim fellowship for fiction writing. She currently lives in Pearl River, New York with her husband and their two sons. She is the author of The Walking People, Fever, and Ask Again, Yes.
Read an Excerpt
Ask Again, Yes
GILLAM WAS NICE ENOUGH but lonely, Lena Teobaldo thought when she first saw it. It was the kind of place that if she were there on vacation she’d love for the first two days, and then by the third day she’d start looking forward to leaving. It didn’t seem quite real: the apple trees and maples, the shingled houses with front porches, the cornfields, the dairy, the kids playing stickball in the street as if they didn’t notice their houses were sitting on a half acre of grass. Later, she’d figure out that the kids played the games their parents had played growing up in the city. Stickball. Hopscotch. Kick the can. When a father taught a son how to throw a ball, he marched that boy to the middle of the road as if they were on a block tight with tenements, because that’s where he’d learned from his father. She’d agreed to the trip because it was something to do and if she’d stayed in Bay Ridge that Saturday, her mother would have made her bring food to Mrs. Venard, who’d never been right since her boy went missing in Vietnam.
Her cousin Karolina’s dress was hanging on the hook behind Lena’s bedroom door, altered and ready for Lena to wear in just six days’ time. She’d gotten her shoes, her veil. There was nothing more to do other than wait, so when Francis asked if she wanted to take a little trip to check out a town he’d heard about through a guy at work, she’d said sure, it was a beautiful fall day, it would be nice to get out to the country for a few hours, she’d pack a picnic lunch. They unpacked that lunch on a bench outside the public library, and in the time it took to unwrap their sandwiches, eat them, sip all the tea from the thermos, only one person entered the library. A northbound train pulled into the station and three people got off. Across the town square was a deli, and next to it a five-and-dime with a stroller parked outside. Francis had driven them in Lena’s father’s Datsun—her brother Karol’s copy of Led Zeppelin IV stuck in the tape deck. Lena didn’t have a driver’s license, didn’t have the first idea how to drive. She’d assumed she’d never have to learn.
“So? What do you think?” Francis asked later as they eased back onto the Palisades Parkway. Lena opened the window and lit a cigarette.
“Pretty,” she said. “Quiet.” She slipped off her shoes and put her feet up on the dashboard. She’d put in for two weeks of vacation time—a week before her wedding plus a week after—and that day, a Saturday, was her first day of the longest stretch of days she’d had off in three years.
“You saw the train? There’s also a bus that goes to Midtown,” he said. She thought it a random piece of information until it hit her like a kick in the shin that he wanted to live there. He hadn’t said that. He’d said only that he wanted to take a spin in the car, check out a place he’d heard of. She thought he only wanted a break from all the wedding talk. Relatives from Italy and Poland were already arriving, and her parents’ apartment was packed with food and people every hour of the day. No one from Ireland was coming but some relation of Francis’s who’d emigrated to Chicago had sent a piece of Irish china. Francis said he didn’t mind. It was the bride’s day anyway. But now she saw he had a plan in mind. It seemed so far-fetched she decided not to mention it again unless he brought it up first.
A few weeks later, the wedding over and done with, their guests long departed, Lena back at work with a new name and a new band on her finger, Francis said it was time for them to move out of her parents’ apartment. He said that everyone had to tiptoe through the narrow living room if Lena’s sister, Natusia, was in there with her books. Karol was almost always in a bad mood, probably because the newlyweds had taken over his bedroom. There was nowhere to be alone. Every moment Francis spent there, he said, he felt like he should be offering to help with something, do something. Their wedding gifts were stacked in corners and Lena’s mother was always admonishing everyone to be careful, think of the crystal. Lena thought it was nice, a half dozen people sitting down to dinner together, sometimes more, depending on who stopped by. For the first time she wondered if she’d known him well enough to marry him.
“But where?” she said.
They looked on Staten Island. They looked within Bay Ridge. They climbed walk-ups in Yorkville, Morningside Heights, the Village. They walked through houses filled with other people’s things, their photos displayed on ledges, their polyester flower arrangements. On all those visits, Lena could see the road to Gillam approaching like an exit on the freeway. They’d socked away the cash gifts they’d gotten at the wedding plus most of their salaries and had enough for a down payment.
One Saturday morning in January 1974, after he’d worked a midnight tour plus a few hours of overtime, Francis got to Bay Ridge and told Lena to get her coat, he’d found their house.
“I’m not going,” she said, looking up from her coffee with her face set like stone. Angelo Teobaldo was doing a crossword across from her. Gosia Teobaldo had just cracked two eggs onto a skillet. Standing six foot two in his patrolman’s uniform, Francis’s face burned.
“He’s your husband,” Angelo said to his daughter. A reprimand. Like she’d left her toys scattered on the carpet and forgotten to put them away.
“You keep quiet,” Gosia said, motioning for him to zip his lip. “We’re having breakfast at Hinsch’s,” she announced, extinguishing the flame under the skillet.
“Let’s just go see, Lena. We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
“Oh, sure,” Lena said.
An hour and twenty minutes later, Lena pressed her forehead against the glass of the passenger window and looked at the house that would be theirs. There was a brightly lettered For Sale sign outside. The hydrangea that would flower in June was just a clump of frostbitten sticks. The current owners were home, their Ford was in the driveway—so Francis kept the engine running.
“What’s that? Are they rocks?” Toward the back of the property were five huge rocks, lined up by Mother Nature hundreds of millennia ago in ascending order, the tallest maybe five feet high.
“Boulders,” Francis said. “They’re all over this area. The realtor told me the builders left some as natural dividers between the houses. They remind me of Ireland.”
Lena looked at him as if to say, So that’s why you brought me here. He’d met a realtor. His mind was made up. The houses on that street—Jefferson—and the surrounding streets—Washington, Adams, Madison, Monroe—were closer together than the houses farther from town, and Francis said that was because these houses were older, built back in the 1920s when there was a tannery in town and everyone walked to work. He thought Lena would like that. There was a porch out front.
“Who will I talk to?” she asked.
“To our neighbors,” he said. “To the people you meet. You make friends faster than anyone. Besides, you’ll still be in the city every day. You’ll have the girls you work with. The bus stops right at the end of the block. You don’t even have to learn to drive if you don’t want to.” He’d be her driver, he joked.
He couldn’t explain to her that he needed the trees and the quiet as a correction for what he saw on the job, how crossing a bridge and having that physical barrier between him and his beat felt like leaving one life and entering another. In his imagination he had it all organized: Officer Gleeson could exist there, and Francis Gleeson could exist here. In academy, some of the instructors were old-timers who claimed they’d never in their thirty-year careers so much as drawn their weapons, but after only six months Francis had drawn several times. His sergeant had just recently shot a thirty-year-old man in the chest during a standoff beside the Bruckner Expressway, and the man died on the scene. But it was a good kill, they all said, because the man was a known junkie and had been armed. Sergeant hadn’t seemed the slightest bit concerned. Francis had nodded along with the rest of them and gone out for drinks when their tour was over. But the next day, when someone had to meet with the man’s mother and the mother of his children to explain to them what had happened since they wouldn’t leave the waiting room for anything, it seemed to Francis that he was the only one who felt rattled. The man had had a mother. He’d been a father. He hadn’t always been a junkie. Standing by the coffeepot and wishing the women would go the hell home, it was as if he could see the whole rest of the man’s life—not just the moment he’d foolishly swung around while holding his little .22.
And though he told Lena none of this, only that work was fine, things were busy, she sensed the thing he wasn’t saying and looked at the house again. She imagined a bright row of flowers at the foot of the porch. They could have a guest bedroom. It was true that the bus from Gillam to Midtown Manhattan would take less time than the subway from Bay Ridge.
In April 1974, just a few weeks after they packed a rental truck and moved north to Gillam, a local physician completed an internal exam in his little office beside the movie theater and told Lena she was nine weeks along. Her days of running for the bus were numbered, he said. Her only job now was to eat right, to keep her mind peaceful, to not spend too much time on her feet. She and Francis were walking around the house looking for a place to sow a tomato plant when she told him. He halted, baffled.
“You know how this happened, right?” she asked with her most serious expression.
“You should be sitting,” he said, dropping the plant and grabbing her by the shoulders, steering her to the patio. The previous owners had left behind two rusted wrought-iron chairs, and he was glad he hadn’t thrown them away. He stood, then sat across from her, then stood.
“Should I stay here until November?” Lena asked.
She stopped working at twenty-five weeks because her mother was driving her crazy, saying all those people rushing through the Port Authority Bus Terminal might elbow her, might knock her down. On the day she fitted the dustcover over her typewriter for the last time, the other girls threw her a party in the lunchroom, made her wear a baby’s bonnet they decorated with ribbons from the gifts.
Home all day with more free time than she’d ever had in her life, she’d only begun to get to know the elderly couple who lived in the house to the right of theirs when the woman died of bladder cancer, and her husband just two weeks later of a massive stroke. For a while, the empty house bore no sign of change and Lena began to think of it as a family member whom everyone had forgotten to tell. The wind chime they’d hung from their mailbox still tinkled. A pair of work gloves lay on top of their garbage can as if someone might come back and pull them on. Eventually, the edges of their lawn began to look craggy. Newspapers swollen with rain, bleached by the sun, made a pile at the top of their driveway. One day, since no one seemed to be doing anything about it, Lena went over and cleared them away. Every once in a while a realtor would lead a couple up the driveway, but none of it seemed to go anywhere. At some point Lena realized that she could go a whole day without speaking or hearing a single human voice if she kept the TV turned off.
Natalie Gleeson was born in November of 1974, one month to the day after Francis and Lena’s first wedding anniversary. Lena’s mother came to stay for a week but she couldn’t leave Angelo alone any longer than that. The man couldn’t so much as boil water for tea. She said she was coming to help Lena, but she spent most of the day leaning over the bassinet and cooing, “I’m your busha, little one. It’s very nice to meet you.”
“You take the baby out every day, no matter the weather, and you walk around the neighborhood for one hour,” Gosia advised her daughter. Natalie was asleep in the pram with a wool blanket packed around her. “Look around at the trees, at the nice even sidewalks. Wave to your neighbors and think about what a lucky girl you are. What a lucky baby she is. She has a drawer full of clothes already. Francis is a good man. Repeat it to yourself again and again. Go into the shops. Tell them your name and that you just moved here. Everybody loves a new baby.”
Lena began to cry. When the bus approached, she felt a wild temptation to climb aboard behind her mother, take the baby in her arms, leave the pram on the sidewalk, and never return.
“When you were born, I used to daydream about leaving you with Mrs. Shefflin—remember Mrs. Shefflin? My idea was I’d ask her to watch you while I ran out for a carton of milk and then I’d never come back.”
“What? Really?” Lena said, her tears instantly drying. It was so unexpected she started laughing. Then she was laughing so hard she was crying again.
And then, on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend 1975, Lena was nursing Natalie in the rocker upstairs when she looked out the window and saw a moving truck come to a stop outside. She’d just learned she was pregnant again, two months gone already, and her doctor had joked that her Irish husband had almost given her Irish twins. The realtor’s sign had been removed a few weeks earlier, and now that she thought about it, she remembered Francis saying something about the house having finally sold. Lately she felt so tired it was hard to hold a thought in her head.
She rushed down the stairs and out onto the porch with Natalie tucked into the crook of her arm. “Hello!” she called out to her new neighbors, and later, when she recounted the meeting to Francis, she said she was afraid she’d said something corny and made a bad impression. Natalie was still hungry, and was sucking on her little fist.
A blond woman in a pretty eyelet sundress was walking up the driveway carrying a lamp in each hand.
“You bought the house,” Lena said. Her voice was an octave too high. “I’m Lena. We just moved here last year. Welcome! Do you need any help?”
“I’m Anne,” the new neighbor said, and Lena heard traces of a brogue. “That’s Brian, my husband.” She smiled politely. “How old’s the baby?”
“Six months,” Lena said. Finally, on the first warm day of the year, there was a new person to admire the baby, to offer a finger for Natalie to grip. She wanted to ask a thousand questions at once. Where had they moved from, how long had they been married, what made them choose Gillam, how did they meet, what kind of music did they like, what part of Ireland was Anne from, did they want to come over for a drink later, once they’d unpacked?
Anne was very beautiful, Lena noted, but there was something else about her, too. Once, at work, when Lena was passed over for a promotion, her boss Mr. Eden had said that it was no reflection of Lena’s performance, it was just that the other woman had more presence, and the promotion would mean greeting clients. Lena had no idea what he meant but she didn’t want to seem stupid, so she accepted his explanation and went back to her desk. It was her accent, maybe. Too Brooklyn. Maybe it was her habit of fixing her hair at her desk after lunch. One time she’d gotten a strand of celery caught between her molars and for the life of her she couldn’t get it out with her tongue, so she’d jammed her finger into her mouth and coaxed it out with her fingernail. Now she wondered if presence was the thing her new neighbor had, if it was something a person had to be born with and could never be learned.
Anne glanced over her shoulder at her husband as she put her hand flat against her own stomach, and lowered her voice. “She’ll have company in a few months.”
“How wonderful!” Lena said.
Brian Stanhope, who had not yet said hello, was crossing the lawn behind them just then and heard what his wife said. He staggered as if he’d tripped on something, and instead of approaching the women as it seemed he was about to do, he turned sharply and kept unloading the truck. Lena asked Anne if she felt tired, if she’d been sick. It was all normal, she said. Every pregnancy is different. Keeping crackers by her bed might help. If she ever let herself get hungry, she’d end up feeling sick all day. Anne nodded but the advice seemed to slide right by her, and she didn’t seem to want to discuss it with Brian listening. Lena remembered that she hadn’t heeded much advice either. Every woman learns on the job.
Eventually, Brian came over to them. “I work with Francis,” he said. “Well, I used to. Until a few weeks ago I was in the Four-One.”
“You’re kidding,” Lena said. “What a coincidence!”
“Not really,” Brian said, grinning. “He’s the one who told me about the house. He didn’t say?”
Later, when Francis got home, she wanted to know why he hadn’t told her they were coming. She could have made a welcome party, had food ready. But he had told her, he insisted. He said the house sold, she said, but not that it sold to his friend.
“Well, I don’t know about friend,” Francis said.
“You work with him. You eat meals with him. You’ve known him since academy. Weren’t you partners for a while? He’s your friend,” Lena said.
“I’m sorry,” Francis said. “I forgot. He got transferred. I haven’t seen him in a few weeks.” He pulled her to his chest. “What’s the wife like? They lost a baby, did I tell you that? A stillborn, I think. Probably going on two years ago now.”
Lena gasped and thought of Natalie’s warm belly rising and falling in her crib upstairs. “How awful.” She recalled with horror the advice she’d offered, how silently Anne had taken it.
Lena paid attention to her neighbor’s belly to see how it was growing, but she wore everything so loose—oversized nursing scrubs on workdays, and on her days off peasant blouses and skirts so long they almost skimmed the ground. Lena often watched Anne hurry to her car in the mornings, keys in hand, and felt a small flame of jealousy for the other woman’s freedom. Sometimes she’d go out to the mailbox when she saw that Anne was outside and try to approach her, to start a conversation, but most times Anne just gave Lena a light wave and went in. A few times, when she saw Anne’s car was in the driveway, she’d gone to their door and knocked but no one ever answered. Once, she stuck a note in their mailbox asking if they wanted to come to dinner some Saturday night—they could name the date—but got no reply.
Francis said maybe they’d never gotten the note. Maybe the mailman had taken it. “Can you ask Brian?” Lena asked.
“Listen,” Francis said. “Don’t worry about it. Some people don’t like to make friends so close. I can understand that, can’t you?”
“I understand completely,” Lena said, then took Natalie into her arms and went up to their bedroom to sit on the edge of the bed.
Summer came and went. Brian was outside raking their yard one Saturday when Lena spotted Francis chatting with him on the narrow strip of grass between their driveways. Francis was laughing so hard he had to bend over a little to catch his breath. Sara was born, another healthy girl, except this time around Lena couldn’t rest when the baby rested because Natalie was there, too, unsteady on her feet and always toddling toward the stairs. Eventually a full nine months went by since the Stanhopes had moved in, and no matter how early the pregnancy had been on the day they arrived, baby Stanhope would have been in the world by then. Never had Lena detected crisis from next door, the house cloaked with the kind of sadness a lost baby would bring. One day, after arriving home from the grocery store, both babies wailing from the backseat, Lena stood at the open trunk of the car considering the dozen bags she had to get inside when she glanced up and found Anne staring at her from the end of their front porch. Lena had learned to drive but she wasn’t confident about it. The only route she’d dared so far without Francis was to the grocery store and back. She was afraid she’d done something wrong and Anne had seen.
“Hello!” Lena called over, but Anne turned her back and went inside.
When it was almost Sara’s first birthday, Lena observed that Anne’s belly appeared to be growing. She badgered Francis to ask Brian next time he saw him.
“Ah, come on,” Francis said. “They’ll tell us if they want to tell us.”
But one day it must have come up. Lena was sewing a button onto one of Francis’s shirts when he came into the kitchen to wash his hands. Without turning from the sink, he said she was right, the Stanhopes were indeed having a baby. Being a man he hadn’t gotten a single detail, but Lena knew Anne must be close to her due date when her car stayed in their driveway all day and she no longer seemed to go to work. Lena waited for the right time, the right day, and then she put Sara in the playpen, turned on the television for Natalie, folded up the old baby swing, and trudged across the snow-dusted driveways to the Stanhopes’ front door. Anne seemed taken aback by the gesture, and though she didn’t invite Lena in, she did ask if she wouldn’t mind demonstrating how to unfold it, how to use the straps. Lena, thrilled, took off her mittens to open it on the Stanhopes’ porch, to show her how to unsnap the fabric if it needed to be washed, how to drape it around the frame and secure it. As they talked, Anne, who was wearing only a thin wool cardigan, said she was due the following week, and Lena told her what she hadn’t even told her mother yet, that she was pregnant, too. Since she estimated her own due date was about six months behind Anne’s, she figured the Stanhope baby could occupy the swing for six months—which the manufacturer had printed as the maximum age anyway—and then Anne could pass it back. They could pool what they had and try to help each other. Anne was going to stay home with the baby for a while and then decide about work. She liked working, she told Lena, as if it was a confession, and Lena, feeling an opening, told her that she understood, that being home with a baby was more difficult than it looked from the outside, more difficult than it seemed like it should be.
“If you need anything—if Brian isn’t home when the time comes—or anything at all, you know where to find me.” As she crossed back over the driveways, she thought: It was just that we got off on the wrong foot. She thought: She probably lost that baby and couldn’t face me, having two. She thought: Maybe I offended her somehow, without realizing, and now it’s all water under the bridge.
Peter was born less than a week later, nine pounds ten ounces.
“It was gruesome,” Brian said to Francis.
“As far as I know they’re all like that,” Francis said. And then: “You didn’t see . . . that time when . . . ?”
“No, no. It was nothing like this. They knew, you see, beforehand.”
“I didn’t mean to—”
“Not at all. It’s fine.”
Anne held her son on her lap for the ride home from the hospital, and when she carried him into the house, the corner of his thick blue blanket flapped in the bitter February wind. Lena had Natalie and Sara scribble “Welcome Home” drawings, then left them outside the Stanhopes’ door, weighted down with a poppy-seed loaf she’d baked that day.
The next morning, while Francis was waiting for the teakettle to boil and Lena was ladling oatmeal into bowls, the sound of the doorbell rang out. The wind had rattled the house all night long, and the morning news said it had brought down tree limbs all over the county. Francis thought the doorbell had something to do with that, someone wanting help, someone alerting them to something, a downed wire, a closed road. Instead, he opened the door to find Anne Stanhope wearing a beautiful ankle-length camel hair coat buttoned to the throat, and holding the baby swing. She was wearing bright red lipstick but there were dark circles under her eyes. “Here,” she said, holding the swing out to him.
“Is everything all right?” Lena asked over her husband’s shoulder. “Is the baby all right?”
“I can take care of my own baby,” Anne said. “And I can bake for my own husband.”
Lena went silent, wide-eyed. “Of course you can!” she said finally. “I just know it’s hard in the beginning so I thought—”
“It’s not hard at all. He’s a perfect baby. We’re fine.”
Francis found purchase inside the exchange long before Lena. “Well, thanks a lot,” he said, taking the swing and beginning to shut the door, but Lena stopped him.
“Wait a second. Just wait a second. I think there’s been a misunderstanding. Keep the swing,” she said. “The baby will nap in it. Really. We’re not even using it.”
“Are you listening?” Anne said. “I don’t want it. If I need something for my son, I’m fully capable of buying it.”
“Fair enough,” Francis said, and this time closed the door. He tossed the folded swing toward the couch, where it bounced off the cushion and clattered to the floor. While Lena stood openmouthed in the middle of the living room, a wooden spoon in her hand, he shrugged and said: “It’s him I feel sorry for. He’s a nice fella.”
“What in the world did I do to her?” Lena asked.
“Not a thing,” Francis said, already headed back into the kitchen to his tea and his newspaper. “Something’s not right.” He tapped the side of his head. “Just don’t bother with her anymore.”
Six months later, Kate was born into the swampy humidity of August. Lena always said she couldn’t nurse Kate because as soon as they were skin to skin they’d both get so sweaty she’d slip right off. She gave up after only a day or two, and when Francis was on midnights he’d come home, drop his things by the door, and give Kate her first bottle of the day. It was such a break for Lena, and it was so sweet to see father and daughter staring at each other over the bottle while she drank, that Lena wished she’d bottle-fed all three. “You’re a dote,” Francis would say to the baby when she finished, and then flip her to his shoulder for a burp.
Peter, six months ahead, was eating cereal and applesauce while Kate was naked on her belly, learning to hold the weight of her own head. Later, they’d both wonder when their brains first registered the presence of the other. Could Peter hear Kate cry when the windows of both houses were open? When he learned to stand up to the porch railing, did he ever see Kate’s sisters pulling her along the sidewalk in their Radio Flyer and wonder who she was?
For the rest of her life, when asked to recall her earliest memory, Kate would remember watching him run around the side of his house with a red ball in his hand and already knowing his name.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Ask Again, Yes includes an introduction and discussion questions. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
A profoundly moving story about two neighboring families in a suburban town, Ask Again, Yes is a multigenerational portrait of love marked by loss, loyalty, and grace.
When Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope are in eighth grade, a violent event divides their families. The children are forbidden from having any further contact, but Kate and Peter find a way back to each other. Ask Again, Yes reveals how echoes from the past test relationships and how the events of childhood look different when reexamined from the distance of adulthood.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Ask Again, Yes grapples with the idea of learning from the past. What lessons do Kate and Peter learn from their parents’ experiences? What mistakes did they repeat?
2. Do Francis Gleeson and Anne Stanhope—both Irish immigrants—experience things differently than their American-born spouses? Do you think this contributes to tensions within the couples, and between the two families?
3. Ask Again, Yes is set over the course of four decades. How do attitudes toward mental health and addiction change over that time? How do these changes affect the characters? For example, how do Brian and George Stanhope differ in their attitudes toward drinking?
4. Francis marvels at how many pieces had to come together for a woman like Lena to exist and for him to have met her (page 7). What role do you think fate plays in this novel? Do the characters have free will to make their own choices? Why or why not?
5. When Kate learns about the episode at Food King, she momentarily thinks that it couldn’t have been as dramatic as Peter was making it out to be. Then she realizes that it was, in fact, the opposite, “that it was such a big deal that the adults had been careful not to talk about it in front of the kids” (page 85). What role does keeping secrets—from children, parents, partners—play throughout the novel? Do you think certain events could have been avoided if the characters had been more open with each other?
6. The idea of inherited traits and characteristics appears frequently in the novel. Trauma is another thing that is passed down from generation to generation. Do Kate and Peter address the legacy of trauma they’ve inherited from their parents?
7. Redemption is an important theme throughout Ask Again, Yes. Discuss the many ways in which the characters forgive each other.
8. The novel is divided into four parts. Discuss the significance of each of the part titles—“Gillam,” “Queens,” “Two by Two,” and “Muster.” Why do you think Mary Beth Keane chose to structure the story this way?
9. At the end of the book, Francis thinks, “It was always the same. People didn’t change” (page 385). Do you think he really believes this?
10. What does the book’s title, Ask Again, Yes, mean to you?
11. This novel is specific to these two families, yet it also feels universal in its themes. Do you see echoes of your family’s history in the Gleesons or the Stanhopes?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Excellent book. Very well developed characters and plot line. I hope the author will be publishing more books in the future.
Mary Beth Keane’s engrossing new novel, “Ask Again, Yes,” begins as NYPD rookie Francis Gleeson waits for fellow rookie and temporary partner Brian Stanhope prior to starting their shift in 1973. Their relationship is cordial although not necessarily friendly, but when the house next door to the Gleeson’s home in the Westchester suburb of Gillam becomes available, Francis lets Brian know and the Stanhopes move in. Thus begins an uneasy connection between the two families that deepens when their children, classmates Peter Stanhope and Kate Gleeson, forge a close friendship. Just as that friendship is about to blossom into something more, however, the shattering events of one spring night change everything and connect the families in ways none of them could ever have imagined. Spanning almost 50 years, “Ask Again, Yes” tells the stories of the Gleesons and the Stanhopes from the alternating perspectives of several members of each family, sensitively dealing along the way with mental illness, alcoholism and the ways families build and test their capacity for loyalty, compassion and forgiveness. I really enjoyed this book; the writing is fluid and assured, the plot never veers into melodrama or sensationalism (which it easily could have) and the story and polyphonic format reminded me a lot of Ann Patchett’s last book, “Commonwealth,” which I also recommend. Great pick for readers looking for a literary family drama to get lost in this summer. Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me with an ARC of this title in return for my honest review.
Ask Again, Yes is a beautiful family drama that takes a hard look at generational trauma, diseases and mental illness, and the overall difficulties of being a part of a family. So I can get it out of the way, the one thing that really bothered me about this book was the huge jumps forward in time. I'm the type of reader that wants to spend slow, quality time with the characters so that by the time I leave them, I feel like I'm walking away from a friend. Because the scope of this story is so broad, Keane does not give a lot of attention to small, unimportant moments, which to me are what really makes a book a lot of the time. This isn't so much a criticism, as I understand why she made the choices she did, but an explanation of why this wasn't a 5-star favorite for me. I did appreciate that we got to walk with Peter and Kate through 30 years of their life, but I just kept wanting more details about events that were glossed over! But the good...and there is so much good! This is, through and through, a story about family. A story about parents and the ways that their decisions can make or break their children. A story about marriage and romantic love and the difficulties that come along with making a lifelong commitment to someone who can never be perfect. A story about found family, and the relationships we make with people outside our nuclear family that can become more important to us than anything else in the world. A story about disease, and the way that illnesses of the mind and body get passed down through generations. A story about forgiveness, and the fact that if you want to live in a family, forgiveness is going to be necessary. A story about in-laws and the family that are forced upon us that we don't choose or even want. I could go on and on. But I felt like Keane really found her story and then took it apart, examining it from every angle, before she put it back together, and what resulted was a really successful family drama. Oh, one more thing. That "violent event that separates the neighbors" (in the plot summary, not a spoiler!)....prepare thyself!
This fiction convinces you it's not fiction. So much truth you can't help but feel the characters are real people or even family members of your own that changed their names out of fear to let you know everything about their lives' struggles and true feelings. Mary Beth Keene shines a light of hope on the taboo subjects of mental health and addiction; a light that lets you know you're not alone and that we should keep asking the hard questions. And then yes, definitely ask them again.
A very moving and intense book about the drama between two families and their lives and interactions. You could very well be reading about people in your neighborhood. So many subjects covered and how they did or didn't deal with them. I actually voted for this book for Jimmy Fallon's 2019 summer book read and I'm glad it won and I got to read it because of it, I don't think I would have read otherwise. I look forward to more from this author.
i liked the book but would have preferred more information about Peter's dad.
I enjoyed the book, the characters were real and the storyline seemed to span many years of their lives.
This is a solid read, demanding full attention and not a book you can lightly skip through. Moving out of the city, newlyweds Lena and Francis look forward to settling into their new home in the suburbs and raising a family there. When another young couple move into the house next-door, Lena makes friendly overtures but finds herself swiftly rebuffed. However, as both their children grow up, their lives are bound to overlap and mingle - with unforeseen consequences for them all. This is a packed read. Full of information and detail, it's one I found myself really absorbed into in a very short time. Not only did I like the characters and found that they interested me, I was also interested in each of them and where it was all heading. Could I have guessed? No, definitely not. This is very much a family saga but with lots of extras and I found it both mysterious and surprising, holding my focus all the way through. If you love a good saga, then you can't go far wrong with this one. It's certainly brought Mary Beth Keane to my attention and I'll be keeping an eye out for any future novels from her. I consider this easily a four star read.
One of the most emotional story I may have read this year which actually got me to think if someone can really be so forgiving despite all the tragedies that can hit. A coming of age story that deals with all sorts of issues lie mental health, alcoholism, marriage & how each character deals with them as the story moves ahead. At first the story starts with slow pace but you have to be patient when reading domestic/family fiction since it takes time for the characters to develop but after few pages I was totally in it. Francis & Brian both their families were neighbors and living their life normally until one mistake by Anne; both the families are struck with tragedies and everything goes haywire. I admire the devotion of Lena towards her husband Francis & I felt Kate derived her strength from her mom to deal with her life problems. I felt sympathy for Anne towards the end for whatever happened it was not her complete fault. I felt so connected to each of the characters except Brian who for some reason I couldn't connect much maybe because his side of the story was not emphasized like the others & I didn't like him as well. The most adorable characters for me were Kate & Peter, their love story was spell bounding and how they relationship thrived over the decades is amazing. When I read a book I always want to see how the title is connected to the story and I was so pleased to read the title when I came to that part of the page, it was almost like a silver lining. I love reading such stories from which you can definitely take something and implement in your life. I feel so good that I spent my time reading an amazing story of Hope, love, hardships, forgiveness & strength. This is the book you should not miss. Thank you Scribner Books for gifting me this book
This is one of the best book that I've ever read. A beautifully written book about the things that happen in two families, rookie cops who become neighbors and how their families grow and interact. This book touches on mental illness, alcoholism, young friendship and love and how these things change these families lives forever. Such a heartfelt book, a must read!
I've heard so many things about this book and was truly very excited to be offered a review copy. Unfortunately, after about 10 attempts at trying to get through this, I had to finally give up. I normally really like family drama type novels, but I felt like this was slogging along without any real intriguing purpose. Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with a review copy.
Ask Again Yes by Mary Beth Keene is a multigenerational tale of two families. Once neighboring families during the early days of each of the marriages, the children grow up together and have a strong bond with each other. A tragedy occurs and the children are torn apart from each other, and the story alternates between various points of view during the aftermath and even farther into the future. This story kept my interest, but despite the tragedies, hardships, and brokenness of the characters and their lives, it did not captivate me as much as I had hoped. The narrative was rather flat and despite the characters experiencing heartbreak, it was told in a fairly 'moving right along' fashion that did not necessarily move me. The book was very plot driven and I was more invested in the dynamics and relationship but the characters felt secondary to me. The characters were developed well but it just went nowhere for me. The title is referenced briefly, but I think another title would have sufficed. I would like to thank NetGalley for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I rated this book 3 Stars on Goodreads. Happy Reading!
Great read, highly recommend this one. Goes to show how one event has come to shape a family for generations. The topic of mental health is one of the underlying themes but it makes you think about all the officers who put their lives on the line daily. It's so important to try to understand your neighbors but at the end of the day, nobody every really knows what happens behind closed doors. Couldn't put this one down!
“‘I’ll give you a hint,’ she said, squeezing his hands until he looked up to meet her eyes. ‘Then and now, I say yes.’” This novel was simply spectacular. It follows two families across five decades, and takes sharp looks at each character at many points in their lives. Written in the third person, each chapter focuses on the perspective of a different character. It is written in a linear timeline but often includes memories spanning the course of the characters lives. Major themes include mental illness, addiction, and forgiveness. Simply put, I adored this book. I read it on a trip in planes, trains and cars, and I hated having to put it down to continue on my journey. The characters are dynamic and incredibly relatable. My one criticism was that the character of Peter was much better developed than his female counterpart Kate. Oftentimes Kate felt like a placeholder in a story about Peter and his family, rather than a story of two neighboring families and the relationship between their children. Overall it was a beautiful book, and I can’t wait to read other works by Mary Beth Keane.
A beautifully written story that truly allows you to empathize with each and every character while tackling tough topics of mental health, alcoholism, and dysfunctional families. It explores the lasting effects of mental illness not only on the individual, but their family and those close tot them. Ask Again, Yes is a multigenerational story of the Gleesons and Stanhopes from when they meet to the birth of their children, and the subsequent relationships that follow. A story of heartbreak and forgiveness that shows the familial bonds that cannot go unbroken. Easily one of the best books of 2019. The beautiful writing truly allows readers to empathize with the characters, even at their lowest points.
4.25 to 4.5. Heart wrenching tale of two neighboring families in the New York suburbs, both fathers New York City cops, two of their young children who develop an emotional bond to each other that grows over the decades, and the intertwining of their lives through the years. One tragic event touches all of their lives. A very powerful and provocative read with themes of forgiveness, redemption, courage, love, and mental illness. The characters are extremely well defined and the writing very concise. This is a book that kept me thinking about it for days.
I really wanted to like this book but I found myself struggling to even finish it. I couldn't connect with any of the characters. I am glad I will never have to read this again!! Such a disappointment.
A Beautiful, Touching, Emotional and Profound Read! Mary Beth Keane's novel, Ask Again, Yes is ultimately about family, love, mistakes, forgiveness and being able to move forward in life, to move past tragedy and embrace our lives - both the good and bad moments. This is also a story that sheds light on some of the darker aspects of family life - alcoholism, mental illness, abuse and infidelity. Brian Stanhope and Francis Gleeson are rookie cops who meet at the academy and are then assigned to the same precinct. Years later they find themselves living next to each other, their children becoming friends and the families forever intertwined. On a night when young Peter Stanhope and Kate Gleeson sneak out to be together, tragedy strikes causing a huge rift between the two families. The two teenagers are ripped apart from each other despite their love for each other. Can their love survive distance, time and familial obligation? I loved Kate and Peter so much! I was fully invested in their story and how it evolved over time. Though this was a slow moving novel (which I'm typically not a huge fan of), I found myself coming back to it every chance I got. The characters were well fleshed out and Keane wrote about mental illness with sensitivity. What I enjoyed most was that the relationships were not fluffy and easy - they were messy, complicated and deeply moving. This thought provoking book is one that should not be missed!