Ask Again, Yes is a literary fiction by Mary Beth Keane that explores the complicated relationships between two generations in two families, the Stanhopes and Gleesons, over several decades. It is a modern-day Romeo and Juliet story.
The novel explores themes of forgiveness, love, family, and mental illness.
Brian Stanhope and Francis Gleeson worked together as new policemen. They were partners right out of the academy for six weeks. Brian was seeing Anne while Francis was dating Lena. Eventually, both couples got married.
Next Door Families
When Lena and Francis got married, they lived with her parents in Bay Ridge, New York. Wanting privacy, Francis decided that they needed to move out. They looked around the city, but couldn’t find anything matching nearby in their price range. They ended up finding a place outside the city, in Gillam, upstate New York. Lena was not excited about the move; she wanted to live somewhere more exciting. Francis convinced her that she would be able to chat with the neighbors, and the bus stop at the end of the block would make it easy to travel to work in the city. When the closest neighbor moved away, it took some time before anyone else bought that house. Finally, someone moved in.
As it turned out, the new neighbors were Anne and Brian. Lena tried her best to be friendly, but Anne resisted all of Lena’s overtures. She actively avoided Lena. Over the years, Lena had three daughters. Eventually, Anne had one son, Peter, who was the same age as Lena’s last daughter, Kate.
Children Growing Up Together
All the children went to the same primary school. Although Anne didn’t like Peter playing with Kate, the children developed a strong bond and were fast friends.
We learn about Anne’s mental illness, her irrational behavior at times, and how she wouldn’t get out of bed some days. Brian does nothing to address the situation, pretending that nothing is wrong. It all came to a head when Anne took Brian’s service revolver and threatened people in a supermarket during a time of delusion. She was taken by ambulance to a hospital, but she managed to sneak out and go back home. By then, Francis was Brian’s superior, although they both worked as cops because Brian had been in some trouble. Francis helped Brian cover up the situation with Anne, and gave Brian a lock box for his gun to keep it safe from his family.
Months later, Anne got so upset when she caught Kate and Peter together that she forbade him from returning to school. He was in grade 8 by then. Peter sent a paper airplane from one yard to the other with a message for Kate to meet him at midnight. They met and shared their first kiss, expressing their feelings for each other. Peter told Kate that they would be married someday. When they got back home, Lena caught Kate trying to sneak back in. She went over to the neighbors and told Peter’s parents about the rendezvous. This enraged Anne, who had forbidden Peter from seeing Kate.
For the second time, Anne gets hold of Brian’s gun. Leaving Anne with his gun, Brian left the room and went upstairs. This left Peter to try to come up with a way to handle the situation. He went over to the Gleeson house to use the telephone to call 911. Being a policeman, Francis decides to go over to the Stanhope house to see how he could help. Francis intends to help his neighbors and does not remove his service revolver from his ankle holster. Once he enters the house, he sees Anne sitting on the couch, where she pulls the gun from under the cushion and shoots him.
The Fallout of the Shooting
It takes years for Francis to recover from the shooting. Part of his face has been taken off by the bullet. Although his brain is okay, he needs to learn to walk and talk again. In court, Anne is found not guilty due to mental health. Lena convinces Francis to have mercy on Anne, and they agree that she be sent to a hospital rather than a traditional prison.
Brian has to sell the house to pay all the legal bills and moves in with his brother George in Queens. After a few months, he quits his job and decides to move down south. He tells Peter that he’s welcome to come, but it’s clear that he does not want or expect him to.
Peter in High School
Peter is a terrific athlete and a runner. In his final year of high school, he gets headhunted by several coaches from different universities to run for the track team. George did the tour of universities with him. When George found out that Peter was considering not going to college, he let Peter know that that was not a good choice. Peter had been working at the iron works with George and realized from talking to some of the full-time employees that he could make good money working there, without a college degree. He thought he might be able to take some time off to make money working at the iron works to afford a better college. The one college that offered him grants to cover all his costs was a small one. If he accepted their offer, he wouldn’t have to pay anything for tuition or food. He was also offered the option to participate in work-study so that he would have living expenses as well. After talking with George, Peter decided to attend that college.
For years, Peter kept visiting his mother in the mental facility. She was often belligerent and mean to him, but that did not keep him away. When she got moved to another facility, one that was more like a prison but still a mental facility, she did not put him on the visitors’ list.
The College Years
After leaving George’s place to attend college, Peter decided to visit his mother at the new facility. He traveled for hours to get there and waited to be allowed to see her. Finally, he was turned away without permission to see her. He was upset and decided that he would not visit her again. That night, he discovered alcohol. Both his father and George were alcoholics, and George had warned him to stay away from alcohol to avoid the family predilection, but he disregarded that advice.
It had been years since Peter and Kate were in contact with each other, not since the shooting. Both of them had thought of each other often over the years and had wanted to be in touch. That night, after trying to visit his mother and getting drunk, Peter got the courage to contact Kate. He wanted to call her, but he didn’t have her phone number. He knew her address, though, so he wrote her a letter and mailed it to her.
Kate and Peter Reunite
That initial letter from Peter progressed to emails, and finally, Peter and Kate met. The love that was brewing between them continued to grow and they started dating each other. When they graduated from college, they initially lived with friends.
Kate’s family had a hard time understanding why she contacted Peter. George also didn’t understand what connected the two of them together. Kate’s father kept warning her away from Peter, saying that nobody could grow up in the Stanhope house unscathed. Kate and Peter decided to elope. When Kate told her family, her mother and sisters showed their support by getting her wedding gifts. Her father was always a steady presence in her life, even when he didn’t agree with her choices.
Anne Back in the Real World
Eventually, Anne gets released from the facility. One day, as she goes past a private detective’s office, she decides to hire him to find Peter. Once she found out where Peter lived, it was only a matter of time before she would try to see him. On her first visit, she goes over to Dunkin’ Donuts to use the washroom. She watches Peter and Kate leaving the café and makes eye contact with Kate; she waits for Kate to let Peter know she’s there, but Kate carries on her way with Peter and says nothing. Over the years, every time Kate and Peter move, Anne uses a private investigator to find them, and spies on them for hours at a time. In many cases, she and Kate make eye contact. Once, Kate even approached her and told her to leave Peter alone. But Kate never kept Anne’s watchful presence secret from Peter.
We find out that Anne was molested by a neighbor from the age of 12 to 16. After telling a friend in England, she felt like she was held responsible for the abuse when the friend asked her why she went over to the neighbor’s house when he came to her home to fetch her. It hadn’t occurred to her to refuse. From then, Anne decided to keep her secret. She moved to New York to start all over again.
Kate and Peter Adulting
The years go by and Peter and Kate have two children. By then, Peter is drinking heavily, but Kate does not know the extent of it until he fires his gun inappropriately at work. Thankfully, nobody got hurt, but he has to see a shrink and face a judge. This is the night when Kate approaches Anne as she’s spying on the family from her car. Kate thinks that perhaps knowing about Peter’s childhood will help her understand how to help him now. She invites Anne to dinner, set for two weeks later.
Peter is shocked to find out that his mother has been invited to dinner. He doesn’t know what to expect and is nervous. He decides to invite George as a buffer, and they keep the kids at home to meet their grandmother. The dinner is awkward but turns out okay. Anne was staying at a motel nearby, but everyone was moving slowly about reconnecting.
After Peter’s hearing, he is forced to leave the force and has to take his pension once the year is over. Francis is still in contact with cops, so he knows much more about what has been going on than Kate. He shows up at the court and offers to help Peter with his alcohol addiction by paying for a place for him to go to rehab. Peter declines Francis’ offer. Francis also offers help to Kate, telling her that she can come back home anytime she wants.
That same night Peter and Kate talk. Peter agrees to go to rehab, and Kate finds him a bed that can accept him that same night. She doesn’t want to give him a chance to change his mind. They have trouble finding a sitter and so in desperation, they call Anne to babysit for them since they know she’s staying nearby and likely free.
Moving Forward and Moving On
While Anne is babysitting the kids, Francis drops by. It’s a shock for both of them to see each other after so long, given everything that’s happened, but they babysit the children together. After the children go to bed, they sit and chat about Ireland, sharing memories of their past. They found out they had a lot in common. Francis even finds that his heart is making space for forgiveness, and he starts that journey
It takes 30 days before Peter is released from rehab. Things feel different in his relationship with Kate, and they have to find their way back to each other. Peter decides that he’s going to be a history school teacher, and he gets the job. On the night before school starts, Kate hears clinking downstairs and suspects that Brian has started drinking again. This is confirmed the next day when a stranger drops off his wallet, which he left at a bar. She drives straight to the school to confront Peter, who admits that he has been drinking. The last time he went to the bar, he told her that he was going to an AA meeting. It was not his first time drinking, and he felt himself beginning to spiral out of control again. He promised Kate that he wouldn’t do it anymore; she questioned him how he could know and why she should believe him.
The Ending of Ask Again, Yes
Over time, Peter is able to prove himself to Kate and regain her trust. On their 15th anniversary, they go out to dinner together. Kate confessed that Anne had been checking up on Peter for years and that she knew. Peter confessed that he was afraid that Kate wouldn’t choose him if she had the choice, since he never asked her properly to get married. She lets him know that given the chance if he asked, she would say yes all over again to him and their marriage.
When Brian dies, he sends packages to three people. He’s left his house to Peter and Anne, and some money to George. To Francis, he sends the pictures that he kept in his hat liner when he was a cop. Anne and Peter decided to give Sue, the woman that Brian had been living with and to whom he left nothing, a third of their share. Anne and Peter keep in touch by phone, but they haven’t seen each other recently.
Ask Again, Yes ends with Lena, Peter, Kate, and Francis preparing to have dinner together after looking through the envelope of pictures that Brian had willed to Francis. The children are playing outside. At that moment, Francis realizes that everybody is okay and in an intimate moment, Lena says to him that they’ve been luckier than most. He agrees.
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