Author: Mary Beth Keane
Title: Ask Again, Yes
Narrator: Molly Pope
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio (2019)
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 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.
Recommended books: Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan, Charming Billy by Alice McDermott, and Payback by Thomas Kelly