Originally published: August 2019 (Paperback edition August 2020)
Author: Mary Beth Keane
Published by: Penguin
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Length: 400 pages
Reading dates: 15-21 September 2020
Set in the town of Gillam in upstate New York, newlyweds Francis and Lena Gleeson move there and settle into suburban life. Lena is lonely and feels isolated from her family so is thrilled when a policeman colleague of Francis’s, Brian Stanhope, moves across the road with his wife Anne. But Anne isn’t interested in being friends…she is cold and seems unstable and wants to be left alone.
Years pass. The Gleeson’s have 3 daughters while the Stanhope’s have a son Peter. The Gleeson’s youngest daughter Kate and Peter have grown up together and are best friends, travelling by bus to school together and hanging out outside their houses.
When a terrible tragedy engulfs them all, the families become divided, seemingly for good. Time moves on for the families and eventually Peter and Kate meet again as adults and fall in love, to the distress of both their families.
Books likes Ask Again, Yes that look at families over many years and their dramas are just the sort of book I like. This book was told from many viewpoints and what I found interesting is that quite big events in the book were not described as they happened but afterwards. This enabled the story to cover lots of ground without getting too bogged down in the details.
I don’t want to go too much into the plot because I don’t want to give anything away. We find out early on that Anne Stanhope suffers with mental health issues and I didn’t find her a sympathetic character to begin with, but later in the book we hear about her childhood back in Ireland and I started to understand her more. Peter seems reasonably well adjusted considering the events that happened, although he never truly feels like he fits in or belongs anywhere. But it is not until later in life that these traumas manifest themselves.
Spanning four decades, the characters were well developed, and I thought they were realistic in their decisions and attitudes. No character remained unscathed and I liked the way they developed throughout the book and the way their relationships altered as time went on. I loved Kate especially. She was pragmatic and certainly knew her own mind and was fiercely loyal to those she loved.
If you like family saga novels like The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and A Spool of Green Thread by Anne Tyler, then this is the book for you. I took it slowly and enjoyed my time with the Gleeson’s and the Stanhope’s. An moving and accomplished debut.
About the author:
Mary Beth Keane attended Barnard College and the University of Virginia, where she received an MFA. She was awarded a John S. Guggenheim fellowship for fiction writing, and has received citations from the National Book Foundation, PEN America, and the Hemingway Society. She is the author of The Walking People, Fever, and most recently, Ask Again, Yes, which was a New York Times Best Seller. Both Fever and Ask Again, Yes are in development to become limited television series.