Mary Beth Keane’s ASK AGAIN, YES
You know that feeling when a book calls to you? This book did that to me. The cover initially grabbed me and I kept picking the book up from the shelf at my old bookshop and turning it over to examine it. However we were in the middle of closing down and I wasn’t ready for new books. But having closed the shop and started a new job, the book was still calling to me. It was popping up on my Instagram feed, on my Twitter feed, it was even in a neck-and-neck race with Adrian McKinty’s The Chain to be Jimmy Fallon’s Summer Book Club pick (it won). When I again looked the book up online and saw this quote “If you enjoy Celeste Ng, Elizabeth Strout and Ann Patchett you will love this stunning novel.” I realise straight away that this book wasn’t just in my wheelhouse, it was my wheelhouse.
I grabbed the book in my next book purchase and dived straight into it. I was immediately hooked. This is an amazing read. Jaw-droppingly good. I couldn’t inhale the words fast enough, I was totally addicted to the characters, the story, the writing, everything. When I finished the book I was upset that it was over. I am still upset that it is over. This wasn’t just like Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere or Ann Patchett ‘s Commonwealth it was even better, which is a huge call and one I definitely don’t make lightly.
Not only does Ask Me, Again echo Celeste Ng and Ann Patchett but I was strongly reminded of Maggie O’Farrell too. There is also a hint of Jane Smiley’s The Last Hundred Years trilogy. It is literally one of those novels that ticks every box on my “what makes my ultimate novel” list, twice.
The novel focuses on two families; The Gleesons and The Stanhopes. Francis and Brian meet as young men in the 1970s when they are partnered together as beat cops in New York City. They both end up as neighbours when they each buy houses outside of the city to start their respective families. The story follows each family as each of their children grow up. Francis’s youngest daughter Kate forms a strong friendship with Brian’s son Peter, a friendship each family is not entirely comfortable with. This uncertainty and and unspoken falling out between the former police partners summers away until the events of one fateful evening, when Kate and Peter are fourteen, which will tear one family apart and leave the other irreparably wounded.
Mary Beth Keane skilfully tells the story from multiple points of view; from Francis and his wife Lena, to Brian and his wife Anne as well as Kate and Peter; giving you each of their perspectives before, during and in the years after the pivotal event that impacts so profoundly on each of their lives. As we get to know each character we see the fissures for what what happened are buried deeper that firsts seems and existed long before, and will exist long after, the fateful night that changes everything.
This is an outstanding story of family, friendship, love and how all three entwine, entangle and entrench themselves for good, bad and everything in between. It is about how trying to pave a future away from your past inevitably will bring back to confront the past before you, and those you love, can truly move forward. It is what great fiction is all about and it is a book I won’t forget.
Title: Ask Again, Yes
Author: Mary Beth Keane
Publisher: Penguin UK
Category: General Fiction
Publication Date: 04/06/2019