Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane (Spoilers)

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So I’m not going to lie to you guys. The main reason that I picked this book up is because when my friends and I first started our book club (RBTW), the first book that I chose for us to read (we all take turns choosing) was Fever by Mary Beth Keane. And everyone really liked it, myself included. Fever was an historical fiction novel that centered around the life of Typhoid Mary, the first known female healthy carrier of Typhoid Fever. It takes place in early 1900s New York, and really was a very fascinating story. But I’m also really drawn to historical fiction because I love reading about the different ways of life that preceded our own. I picked that book knowing that I would probably enjoy it. Keane has been pretty quiet since Fever was released in 2013 so when I saw Ask Again, Yes make the rounds prior to its release, I was excited to see her name again. I was surprised to see that this book, while keeping with her historical flavor, migrated from historical to contemporary-ish. And while I certainly enjoy contemporary romance, contemporary fiction isn’t really my jam. Why would I want to read a book that mirrors the exact world that I live in? I usually don’t. I read to escape, which for me means going to different worlds or different time periods. So while Keane’s name and my enjoyment of Fever made me add this to my TBR immediately, I did so with the feeling that I most likely wasn’t going to enjoy it.

Well, I am here to say, that I actually really liked this book. Way more than I thought I would. Ask AgainYes follows the stories of two neighboring families living in a suburban New York town. Tragedy strikes and the aftershocks are felt over 4 decades later across friendships and marriages. That’s about as much detail as the synopsis gives you. You literally know nothing going in to this book, so if I’m going to talk about all my Feelings™, then I’m going to have to talk Spoilers.

🚨🚨🚨 SPOILER ALERT 🚨🚨🚨

DON’T GO ANY FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO READ SPOILERS!

My heart just broke for Peter. 💔 Over, and over, and over again. He was such a good son to both Brian and Anne, but the way that he tried to help Anne just really tore at my soul. He tried to keep the house clean for her, he made dinner and did all of his dishes, and he tried really hard to make sure she didn’t get upset. And even after “the event,” he still didn’t blame her for what went wrong; He recognized that she was sick and that she was struggling internally. He was the first one, and maybe even the only one, to see that she was not the same as her mental illness and I just give him so much love for that. He loved Anne as a son should love his mother, unconditionally.

I’m still kind of curious as to what Anne struggled with. It was never named in the book. I’m also a little unclear as to how it was resolved. Last I remember reading, she stopped taking her medication once she moved out on her own, but both Kate and Peter indicate that she’s fine as long as she’s taking her medication. Maybe I just missed the part where she continued to medicate…. 🤷 It honestly wouldn’t be the first time I missed something in a book. And her hatred of Kate never really made sense. I get that in the beginning, it wasn’t supposed to, because that was Anne’s mental illness talking. But towards the end of the book when Anne would just pop in to whatever neighborhood Peter and Kate were living in, she still couldn’t get past the fact that he was with Kate. Though when she realized that Kate actually loved her son and she kind of backed off with her negative thoughts, I was just the happiest. And I guess, after all, Anne’s vendetta against Kate isn’t really supposed to make sense, because that’s what mental illness does to our minds – it makes the rational seem irrational.

Whatever Anne’s problems were, I was super frustrated by Brian’s indifference. I’m not sure that I’ve ever loathed a character as much as I loathed Brian Stanhope. I get that his wife had a rather public “episode” that had tangible, damaging results, but for him to leave Peter, the greatest, all-around nicest, most innocent, fluffy boy, behind just rankled. I wanted to find him and just make him eat the largest plate of asparagus known to man. 🤢 He made me feel downright stabby. He did not deserve Peter, though Peter deserved much better than Brian Stanhope.

On the opposite end of that spectrum, Uncle George really was the best Uncle. Where Brian failed, George excelled. He really stepped up even though he totally didn’t have to. He did his best to make Peter feel welcome and loved. He changed pretty much his entire life around when Peter came to live with him. Peter’s mind never really let him get past the feeling of being an interloper, but that disconnect was not due to George. George really was the absolute best and I just wish I could give him all the trophies. 🏆

And last, but certainly not least, we come to Kate. I was so angry with Kate when her and Peter first talked about “the event” when they started seeing each other in college. In the beginning, Kate was the one who held fast to the fact that the sins of the mother should not be visited upon the son. But for whatever reason, most likely fondness for her father, she could not wrap her mind around the fact that what Anne did wasn’t necessarily Anne’s fault. She was so progressive on the one hand, but so limited on the other and that just served to turn me in to a large ball of frustration. But I loved loved loved the fact that she didn’t just give up on Peter. I loved every instance of her not giving up on Peter. When they were kids, when they started seeing each other in college, and when they were adults. Marriage is hard and I love books that explore the idea of maintaining and fixing a marriage, rather than just tossing it aside.

Lastly, my favorite thing to talk about is how the title relates to the story and in this case, it’s just the best. So after everything that Peter and Kate went through, both individually and jointly, they decide to go out to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary and Peter mentions at dinner that he regrets the way he proposed to Kate. Not that he proposed, just the way he did it. So Kate tells him”If you regret it so much, ask me now. Ask again.”  and then later goes on to say “Then and now, I say yes,” and I was just no good. That puddle you just stepped in? Those were my tears. 😭

So aside from my few little mumblings about Anne’s story, I really liked this book. Character driven books are hard for me if there isn’t really a solid plot that goes with it, but in this instance, these characters stood on their own. I was so invested in what would happen with Peter and Kate and Francis and Lena that I just could not put this one down. So if you’re a big fan of character focused novels, then definitely pick this one up. Regardless of my reason for picking this book up, I’m so, so glad that I did.

 

🗣Talk to Me🗣

What are your normal feelings around character driven novels? Is there one character that just kind of stuck in your mind because of how great/terrible they were? What was the last book you read where you were super invested in the characters?

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