35 pages • 1 hour readMary Beth Keane
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Ask Again, Yes, a New York Times best seller, is a multigeneration family epic that covers over 40 years in the lives of two Irish American families. A work of domestic realism comparable to works by Anne Tyler and Ann Padgett, the novel was placed on best novel of the year lists by both People magazine and National Public Radio, and it was also optioned to be developed as a limited television series.
In 2011, author Mary Beth Keane was named one of the most promising authors under the age of 35 by the National Book Foundation. This guide refers to the 2019 Scribner hardcover edition.
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The story begins in 1973. Brian Stanhope and Francis Gleeson meet as rookie cops, both assigned to the rough neighborhoods of the Bronx. Their families move next to each other in the idyllic suburban town of Gillam. After losing a child, the Stanhopes have a son, Peter; the Gleesons have three daughters. One, the youngest, Kate, forms a particularly strong bond with Peter.
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Brian’s wife, Anne, a nurse by profession, is an emotionally troubled woman. No one (not even her husband) knows that she was sexually abused as a child back in her native Ireland. That devastating experience renders her paranoid, easily angered, and deeply distrustful. She grows increasingly troubled by the relationship growing between her son and Kate. One night, after the two teenagers slip out to spend time together, an agitated Anne uses her husband’s department-issue pistol to shoot Francis in the face.
Francis survives, but Anne is committed to the psychological ward of a state hospital, where she undergoes years of counseling and takes medication. In the wake of the shooting, Francis leaves the force and undergoes years of painful rehabilitation, his vision impaired, his face disfigured. During those years, he grows more distant from his wife, Lena. Brian, for his part, cannot handle the anxiety and the stress. After self-medicating for a time with alcohol, he leaves the young Peter to the care of his brother and disappears.
Peter and Kate overcome numerous obstacles to find each other while they are both in college. They marry, and both families struggle with the implications of the union. Two years after the wedding, Anne is released from state custody. Anne secures work as a nurse in an assisted living facility outside Albany but makes regular trips to New York to catch even a glimpse of Peter and Kate and their growing family.
After college, Peter decides to become a police officer. Kate secures a position in the forensics lab in the same precinct. Peter is troubled by his past and cannot entirely resolve his relationship with his estranged father or with his institutionalized mother. The Gleesons reel from Francis’s brief infidelity with a neighborhood woman and from Lena’s slow recovery from cancer, but both are committed to making their marriage work.
Peter turns to alcohol to maintain himself against the day to day pressures of being a cop and of raising a family. When Kate realizes that Peter’s drinking has become a problem, she turns to his estranged mother for help. When a drunken Peter accidentally discharges his firearm during a routine arrest, he admits he has a problem and accepts the department’s decision to force him to take early retirement. He elects to go to a drying-out facility.
In a confrontation charged with emotion, more than 40 years after the shooting, Francis meets Anne face to face one afternoon as she watches her grandchildren while Kate is driving Peter to the rehab facility. Anne can only say how sorry she is. In a moment of generosity and compassion, Francis acknowledges that Anne was not entirely responsible for the shooting, that no one really understood what had compelled her.
When Peter returns from his detox treatment, he commits to a fresh start. He turns to his passion, history, and accepts a modest teaching position at a nearby Catholic prep school. On their wedding anniversary, Kate and Peter renew their commitment to each other and to their families.
By Mary Beth Keane