Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

42201996Fiction – print. Scribner, 2019. 390 pgs. Purchased. 

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope both work as police officers in the New York City Police Department (NYPD), meeting first as trainees and then working together as partners on their first beat. It is Brian who tips first Francis off to a small, suburban community north of the city, but Francis and his wife, Lena, are the first to move there.

After the birth of their second child, the Lena Gleeson is thrilled to see the Stanhopes moving in next door. Lena has felt increasingly isolated as a young mother and is eager to befriend Brian’s wife, Anne. But Anne’s odd behavior sours Lena on the possibility of a meaningful friendship, and her husband urges her to let things lie.

However, a deep friendship eventually blooms between the Gleeson’s youngest daughter, Kate, and the Stanhope’s only son, Peter. Neither family is thrilled about this relationship, leading to a confrontation one night when the two are fourteen that forces the two families to reconcile with what it means to forgive and the complicated assignment of guilt.

As I read Keane’s novel, I was reminded of one of my favorite television shows is “Blue Bloods”, a police procedural focused on the family of the NYPD Police Commissioner, Francis Reagan. While the show mainly follows the eldest son and his (often brutal) efforts to solve a murder in New York City, the real heart of the show is the way the family meets every Sunday night to eat dinner and process the problems of the world together.

The elements of Keane’s novel are different from this TV show; Brian and Francis’ positions on the NYPD are lower than that of the Reagan boys and the drama is cross-family rather than intra-family. But both the show and Keane’s novel attempt to address guilt and forgiveness and how a family’s proximity to policing can affect their viewpoints, particularly when it comes to dealing with people dealt a crummy hand or living with mental illness.

So, it should probably should not come as a surprise that I enjoyed this novel, reading it in a single sitting on a Sunday morning earlier this month. Keane crafts her characters beautifully, slowly peeling back the layers to unveil how erroneous the reader and the other characters’ assumptions about that character are. She shows compassion and tenderness for the darker elements of life, including alcoholism, mental illness, and crime, and that helped me feel even more invested in the lives of the characters.

Keane’s novel covers nearly a thirty-year time span, but I felt the novel moved at the perfect pace, dropping the reader into the necessary moments over the years without glossing over important details. Occasionally, the novel did seem to drag a bit; it wasn’t always clear why some moments were given more time than others until the final chapter.

But I enjoyed this one quite a bit. So much so that I started to wonder if I was making a mistake in cancelling my Book of the Month subscription since I doubt I would have read this book without the club mailing it to me.

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