By Mary Beth Keane, An intimate and insightful family drama
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane is an intimate story of two childhood friends and their relationship in the face of an unforgivable act that threatens to tear their families apart.
Peter Stanhope and Kate Gleason are childhood friends and neighbors who grow up together and fall in love.
Ask Again, Yes traces their history over the course of many decades. It begins with their fathers meeting at the police academy and moving in with their young wives to neighboring houses in a small town, and it extends well into Peter and Kate’s adulthood.
As children, a violent incident involving the two families alters their relationship and that of their families irreparably. As Peter and Kate fall in love, they must struggle to fight for their relationship, and the question always remains of how much it is possible for people to forgive.
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Ask Again, Yes is a heartfelt, sincere story about two families left damaged after a violent incident and two people struggling through a relationship that’s heavy with the weight of their shared histories.
I was a puddle of tears by the end of this book. Like, a total mess. I do not recommend reading the last quarter of this book in public, because if you are a crier, it will be embarrassing and awkward for you (as it was for me). Consider yourself warned.
The book explores the histories of each of the parents to help shed light on how Peter and Kate become the people they are. Anne Stanhope is beautiful, but unstable. Brian Stanhope is not a bad guy, but not entirely together either. Meanwhile, the Gleasons are a lovingly chaotic family with three girls.
It’s a book about love, family and forgiveness. I kept expecting the book to become cheesy or trite, but it never was. Instead, it thinks hard about difficult situations, the bonds between people and the things that test those bonds. Ask Again, Yes is thoughtful and insightful, and my heart felt a little lighter after reading it.
When I first found out about Ask Again, Yes, as first glance it seemed like it might be similar to Normal People by Sally Rooney since they’re both books released this year from Irish authors about the relationship between two people over a period of years. However, the two books are vastly different. Normal People is superficial, pretentious and self-indulgent (I didn’t like it), whereas Ask Again, Yes is introspective, thoughtful, genuine and generous of heart.
For a better comparison, in terms of tone and substance, Ask Again, Yes reminded me a lot of Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.
Ask Again Yes Movie Adaptation
Oscar and Tony-award winning producers Bruce Cohen and Scott Delman have acquired the film rights Ask Again, Yes. It remains to be seen if they’ll do anything with them. I’ll update if things progress!
Read it or Skip it?
Ask Again, Yes is a gem of a novel. It is a thoughtful and insightful story that will break your heart but also give you hope. This would be a fantastic book for book clubs, especially if your club likes books about family dramas the intricacies of interpersonal nuances.
This type of book, with its detailed character sketches and focus on family relationships, is not going to be for everyone, but if you think it sounds interesting, you’ll probably love it.
What do you think? Is this something you would read? See it on Amazon.
Detailed Book Summary (Spoilers)
Prologue: July 1973Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope meet at the police academy and begin training together. Francis has recently immigrated to the US from Ireland. Brian is a yank. As rookie cops, they are assigned as partners. Brian keeps photos of his loved ones in the lining of his hat while on patrol and shows Francis. Soon, Brian gets a girl pregnant and gets married. Francis recently proposed to his girlfriend Lena. Brian tells Francis about a town called Gillam which he's thinking about moving to. They respond to a call about a robbery one night and find a man dead. They end up arresting a teenager for the robbery and murder. Later, Francis calls Lena because he's still upset about it, but he doesn't know what to say. Lena encourages him to try to tell her and get out of his own head.
GillamChapter 1 Years later in 1974, Lena and Francis are living in Gillam, and Lena is pregnant. Lena finds the place nice, but lonely. The baby is born, and Lena's mother stays for a week. Her mother sees how lonely Lena is and admits that she too once thought about leaving her baby and running off, and they laugh together. Lena soon gets pregnant again. One weekend in 1975, new neighbors move in. Anne is beautiful and pregnant. Lena is eager to be friendly and helpful, though Ann is standoffish. Anne is married to Brian, Francis's colleague. Francis tells Lena that Brian got transferred a few weeks ago and about Ann and Brian's first failed pregnancy. Soon, Sara (Lena and Francis's second child) is born, and Lena gets pregnant for a third time. Not long after, Peter (Anne and Brian's child) is born too. Ann continues to rebuff Lena's attempts at friendship, and Francis tells her to just leave it alone because Anne is just like that. Kate (Lena's third child) about six months later. Later, Kate's earliest memory will be of Peter running around the side of his house with a red ball. Chapter 2 It's now 1989. Peter and Kate are schoolmates and close friends, and school is letting out early due to snow. Peter is searching for the expensive model ship that his mother had bought for him, but can't remember where he put it. Peter's mother, Anne, works as a nurse and continues to be detached and unhappy about the life she's chosen. She had bought the ship because of an image she'd had in her mind of the type of life she wanted. Anne occasionally disappears into her room for days at a time. Peter returns to his room to find his mom there with the boat in splinters. His mom had found the boat in the garage and destroyed it because she felt Peter wasn't taking care of it by leaving it there. She slaps Peter, but he gets angry because she was the one who destroyed it. Peter's dad Brian shows up, and Brian and Anne fight. Peter's dad grabs some of Peter's stuff and they get into the car to drive off, but the snow is too bad for them to be driving. They drive home. Chapters 3 - 5 In 1990, Peter and Kate are in 8th grade at St. Bart's. Anne continues to be increasingly irritable and erratic, but occasionally loving. One day, at a deli in town, Anne flips out while Peter waits in the car. An ambulance shows up to take her to the hospital. Francis Gleason takes Peter home, and Brian realizes that Mr. Gleason is now his dad's boss. Anne has to take pills now and things get better, but one day Anne stops taking her pills. Kate slips and falls, and Peter checks her bloody mouth. Anne sees this and gets angry. She tells Peter that Kate is trash. Lena tells Kate that the Stanhope family is troubled and to stay away. Kate and Peter sneak out to see each other anyway. They kiss. Peter tells Kate that his dad is moving out to live with his brother, George. When the Stanhopes find out about them sneaking out, Anne and Brian fight. Peter goes to the Gleasons to ask for help when Anne takes Brian's gun. When Francis shows up to help, Anne shoots him.
QueensChapter 6 Peter and Brian now live with his Uncle George. Anne is now in a state hospital. Their house has been sold. Brian gets moved into the Traffic division of the police, but soon resigns. He wants to move to South Carolina. Francis had been shot in the face, but survived. George applies and gets Peter admitted into Dutch Kills, a specialized and competitive high school with no tuition in Queens, since they can no longer afford St. Bart's. A year later, Peter is a sophomore and track star at Dutch Kills. He and Kate haven't seen each other since that night. The morning of an important meet, Brian leaves for South Carolina. Peter drops out of that meet. For a while Anne refused to see Brian, but eventually came around. Peter now goes to see his mom on Sundays, taking the train to get there. Even in the hospital on meds, Anne is unpredictable and cold. George is an iron worker, and now drinks a lot less for Peter's sake. His drinking is why Brenda, his ex-wife, left him. One day, Peter comes back to see George has tried to fix up the apartment to make it more homely. They hug. Chapter 7 - 8 Francis is alive, but can no longer work due to the brain damage. There's still pain, and he had to relearn how to walk and other simple things. He still struggles from simple tasks, and lost an eye. Kate gets a box of Peter's things from the new neighbors. Kate misses him, but no one in her family ever says his name and she doesn't know where he is. Lena asks Kate not to forget about Peter for her father's sake. Sophomore year, Kate makes varsity soccer and Eddie Marik, a senior, decides he likes her. They start dating. After a dance, they sleep together. He's nice, but she still misses Peter. After Kate's grandmother (her busha) dies, her parents are stressed about the cost of the funeral. Kate feels relieved when Eddie says he'll be leaving for college soon. Chapter 9 Peter starts getting calls from college recruiters based on his track record. Peter spends the summer working at the iron works with his Uncle. Brian sometimes calls, but it's always when Peter is in school. He moves to Georgia without telling Peter. Peter still tries to visit Anne, though she never seems happy to see him. She gets moved to Albany. Peter is angry, both at his mom and his dad. George reminds Peter that Brian loves him even though he's going through some stuff. Peter says his dad should've kept the gun hidden. The night of the shooting, his dad saw her going for the gun and went upstairs instead of stopping her. Peter is offered a full scholarship and living stipend at Elliot, a small college. He's also offered partial scholarships at more prestigious colleges, but those would require taking out loans. Peters thinks about not going or delaying college, but George tells him he's too smart to give up the opportunities he's being offered. Chapter 10 - 11 The Gleason family are having a party for Kate's graduation. Francis misses having sex with his wife, though he knows how lucky he is that his wife has taken good care of him. But the gunshot changed their relationship to her being a caretaker. At the party, a woman named Joan Kavanagh gets too drunk and sleeps over at the Gleasons house. In Queens, Peter heads to Elliot for college. Before he leaves, George warns him to be careful about drinking. He says some guys can drink and be in control, but Stanhopes tend not to be that way, so be careful. There, Peter is easily the best one on the team. He's assigned to a roommate, Andrew. One morning, Peter tries to go up to Albany to see his mother, but she refuses to see him. He knows he won't try to make the trip again. Upset, he stops at a bar on the way back. Drunk, he ends up writing Kate a letter and sending it.
Two By TwoChapter 12 Anne is up for a case review and passes, it has now been two years since Peter's last visit where she turned him away. She has spend six years in the hospital. After passing, she joins a residential re-entry system, a halfway house, called Eirene House. She gets a job in a elder care center. She still has grandiose thoughts and one incident, but overall she does well and soon is sent off to live by herself. Anne wants to see Peter, who is now out of college. She hires a PI to track him down. On Halloween, she then drives to his address. After waiting for hours, she sees him dressed in as a police officers (which she later realizes might not be a costume) with Kate Gleason. They just walk away from her. Chapters 13 - 14 (The book backtracks in time -- Kate & Peter are still in college.) Francis gets involved with Joan, the drunk lady from the party, who reminds him of who he used to be. But soon Lena finds out she has cancer, so he breaks things off with Joan. At the hospital Kate admits she got a letter from Peter, and that they've been e-mailing. She tells Francis she wants to meet up with Peter. He says no. Months later, Lena has beat the cancer, but loses her hair. Kate finds out from Joan's daughter about the affair between Joan and Francis, and tells her mother. Lena confronts Francis. Kate, in anger, tells her father she's going to see Peter. By Peter's senior year, Peter and Kate are seeing each other. Peter's Coach warns him about his drinking. After graduation, Kate gets a job as a criminalist for the NYPD. Peter moves in briefly with George and his girlfriend Rosaleen. For the summer, he works for the iron works where George is the boss, but finds the guys there now unrecognizable and one of the guys is gone due to a bad injury. Peter decides to apply for the police force. Kate's family gradually finds out that they are together. Francis still disapproves, saying that Peter is nice, but he's trouble since there's no way someone doesn't come out of a family like that being damaged. Kate sees Anne looking at them from afar occasionally. She finally goes up to Anne and tells her to leave them alone.
MusterChapters 15 Anne's mother killed herself in 1964. That same year, Anne's neighbor Mr. Kilcoyne started molesting her and later worse, until he moved four years later. When Anne moved to America, she was determined to shed all of that. The idea of Peter and Kate together still bothers Anne. He should have gone to a better college, and Kate is just any old girl, and it makes her lose sleep. She tries to let it go, but can't. She continues watching them. They move in together, and a year later they get married. One day, she tries to peek in their window, but they no longer live there. She hires a new PI ad finds out they purchased a house in a neighborhood called Floral Park. She goes to see it and realizes they now have a baby. Anne continues watching them. She sees the baby transform into a toddler. Then, another baby. In June 2016, Peter is 39. Kate is 38. Anne sees Francis pull up to their house. Anne falls asleep watching them. She wakes up to Kate knocking on the roof of her car, demanding to talk. Chapters 16 - 18 Peter's drinking has over time become an issue and both Kate and George know it. As time passes, it gets worse. Kate tells Peter she'll leave him if it doesn't stop. One day, he doesn't come home until the next morning and is stumbling drunk because he got in trouble for accidentally discharging his gun. Peter gets placed on restricted duty, and Francis comes by to check on them. That night, Kate goes up to talk to Anne. Kate tells Anne that she doesn't know what to do about Peter's drinking. Anne says she wants to talk to Peter. Kate agrees, but says she needs to wait, since she needs to warn him first. When Kate tells Peter, he's unsure at first, but he sleeps well that night. The day of Anne's visit, they invite George as well. Anne is careful, as is Kate. Though Anne never liked George, she remembers from her therapy to thank George for taking care of Peter, and feels lighter after she does. The visit goes smoothly. Chapters 19 About ten weeks later, Peter has his hearing about the work incident. That morning, he admits to Kate that he might have a drinking problem and will work on it. He had been trying since Anne's visit to curtail his drinking, but he's struggling. At the hearing, they determine that he should retire effective immediately. Francis shows up and offers to pay for rehab. As soon as Peter agrees to rehab, Kate makes all the arrangements and feels hopeful. Kate wants him in as soon as possible, but no one's available to watch their kids so she can drop him off that day. Peter suggests asking Anne. Very reluctantly, Kate agrees. Anne shows up, but then Francis hears Kate needs help and shows up too. He is cautious but can tell she's not a threat and agrees that she can stay and watch the kids with him. Anne tells Peter she does't know how to apologize for what she did. She admits to Peter there were times in her life when she knew she should have been getting help or seeing a therapist, but didn't. Francis tells her she probably couldn't have predicted what would happen, effectively offering her a little forgiveness, and she cries. When Kate gets home, Francis and Anne are chatting calmly about Ireland. Francis reminds Kate that she can always come home, but Anne surprises herself by begging Kate not to leave Peter because he's been left too many times already. Chapters 20 - 21 Peter is gone for a little over a month. When he gets back, he soon decides he wants to be a history teacher. He also starts attending AA meetings. However, the night before his first day of teaching, Kate realizes he's drinking again. Things are cold between them for a while as Kate waits to see if Peter will get his drinking under control. The school year ends, and soon their 15th anniversary is approaching. They go out to dinner, and Kate admits she knew a long time ago that Anne was watching them, and Peter says it's okay. Peter admits that he wishes he would've proposed to her properly. Kate tells him to ask her again, and she says yes again. (Hence, the title of the book.) Chapters 22 Anne gets a letter informing her that Brian has passed away. The lawyer in charge informs Anne that Brian had a will that included Anne and Peter, but not the woman he'd be living with for the past decade, Suzie. The lawyer thinks Brian just didn't think about it. Suzie was living with him, but the house now belongs to Anne and Peter. Anne and Peter decide to cut Suzie in for a third of the house. Brian has also left something for Francis Gleason. Kate and Brian along with the rest of the family go to the Gleasons house to find out what Brian left Francis. It turns out it's the photos that Brian used to keep in his hat, which he once showed Francis when they were partners for six weeks. There's no note, so it's not clear why he left them to Francis. As Francis and Lena watch the kids play outside, it occurs to them that they've been luckier than most. Francis also thinks that somehow despite all the things that happened that they thought had hurt them, in the end they were fine and their kids were fine.
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