A few years ago, I was staying with my family at a beach cottage on the coast. I brought a book with me, hoping to get some research done on my own novel, but found myself drifting through it aimlessly. The cozy conditions of our vacation house were ideal for getting lost in a really good book and I was longing to be drawn in. Helpfully, the owners of said house had a lovely, if sparse library, and I decided to take a chance on the book with the most interesting cover. To say, “And I was not disappointed” is an understatement because the truth of the matter is that the book, Fever, stayed with me for months. It left such an impression, I vowed from that day forward I would read anything Mary Beth Keane wrote…even if it was just her grocery list.
Though the events of Ask Again, Yes take place in the same area of the country as Fever, Keane takes us much further into the future in her latest novel. Opening during the early years of the 70’s, we are introduced to rookie cops, Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, and led through the birth of a partnership that will have far reaching consequences for generations to come. One of the things I loved most about this story was the way Keane revealed the twists and tangles enmeshing these two families, so I’m not going to say anything more than I already have about the plot. I’ll leave those moments between Keane and the reader. What I will say is that Keane has written a masterpiece.
As we walked the beat with Francis and Brian, I could feel the sweat and grime of the city streets, instantly transported in much the same way I was when I read Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra. Both writers know exactly how to make New York live and breathe as few authors can. Keane gives the story depth and complexity with incredible attention to detail. This is most evident in small moments, such as when Francis describes, quite late in the story, a side-effect of having a glass eyeball. Through these nuanced intimacies, the reader is never allowed to forget the humanity of these characters.
And it is their humanity that is the most important part of the story, because though the Gleeson and Stanhope families were created in the author’s mind to be put on the page, the truth is that we know these people and their struggles in real life. They are our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends. Ask Again, Yes is an unflinching portrayal of tough subjects like alcoholism and mental illness, but it’s a compassionate one too. Keane gives readers like me, daughter of a recovering alcoholic and step-daughter of a bi-polar manic depressive, hope that joy is not lost, even in the darkest of times.
I truly can’t say enough good things about this book or the author. Mary Beth Keane is so amazing at her craft that it makes me weep as a novelist because all my words pale in comparison. Gorgeously written, Ask Again, Yes is a moving tale about love and loss, tragedy and triumph. It is one of those novels that will stick with you long after you’ve turned the last page.