Book review: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

ask again, yes mary beth keaneAsk Again, Yes alights on different characters in the Gleeson and Stanhope families at various points through several decades. This approach is interesting, but also frustrating. The novel begins with Francis Gleeson in the 1970s, newly over from Ireland, who decides to become a cop. It’s a familiar story but it’s nicely done, in particular Francis’ observations both of New York and his colleagues. He gets married and moves his wife upstate – not her choice but she goes along with it.

Then, just as we’re getting into the dynamics of Francis, his wife, and their oddly hostile neighbour, Anne, the story jumps to the next generation and follows the friendship between Anne’s son Peter and Francis’s daughter, Kate. This, for me, was a less interesting and fairly predictable relationship, but it has consequences that form a key turning point in the book. This leads to the separation of the two friends in adolescence and a dramatic change for both families.

I enjoyed the combination of close observation and grand scope, particularly in the early part of the book. One thing that set it apart was that, although the men in the two families were police officers, very little of the novel takes place while they are at work. You see them at home, as their families see them.

Peter is an interesting and sensitively drawn character, particularly the way he reacts to the challenges in his young life. We see the people who should have cared who look the other way, and the surprising generosity of others.

Despite all that, I was disappointed in the book. Kate never came alive for me and I was unconvinced by some of the events which kept the destinies of the two families entwined. In An American Marriage such ever-tighter ties highlighted the constraints upon the protagonists, but in Ask Again, Yes they felt contrived and not embedded in the characters or their stories.

I found the second half of the novel a slog. Earlier on I felt the author just about got it right in introducing stock elements to the story but drawing out the unique aspects of the characters. However later on I felt like I was on a very long journey to a place where I’d been too many times before.

I received a copy of Ask Again, Yes from the publisher via Netgalley.
View Ask Again, Yes on Goodreads

Try instead – For a more nuanced take on family life and the Irish diaspora, take a look at  my review of The Green Road by Anne Enright

 

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