Ask Again, Yes (Keane)

Ask Again, Yes 
Mary Beth Keane, 2019
Scribner
400 pp.
ISBN-13:
9781982106980 


Summary
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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—July 3, 1977
Where—New York City, New York, USA
Raised—Rockland County, New York
Education—B.A., Barnard College; M.F.A., University of Virginia
Currently—lives in Pearl River, New York


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, Keane 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.

Keane currently lives in Pearl River, New York, with her husband and their two sons. She is the author of The Walking People (2009), Fever (2013), and Ask Again, Yes (From the publisher.)



Book Reviews
[T]houghtful, compassionate…. Keane’s novel… illustrates the mutability of memory and the softening effects of time. "We repeat what we don’t repair," Keane writes, and Kate and Peter’s story poignantly demonstrates how grace can emerge from forgiveness, no matter how hard-won.
Publishers Weekly


Remarkable.
Booklist


(Starred review) Keane's story embraces family lives in all their muted, ordinary, yet seismic shades… [and] offers empathy and the long view.… Tender and patient, the novel avoids excessive sweetness while planting itself deep in the soil of commitment and attachment. Graceful and mature. A solidly satisfying, immersive read.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
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?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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