Share How Small Moments, Family, and Forgiveness Inspired Mary Beth Keane to Write Her Beautiful Novel, Ask Again, Yes

How Small Moments, Family, and Forgiveness Inspired Mary Beth Keane to Write Her Beautiful Novel, Ask Again, Yes

Mary Beth Keane attended Barnard College and the University of Virginia, where she received an MFA. She has been named one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35,” and was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for fiction writing. She currently lives in Pearl River, New York with her husband and their two sons. She is the author of The Walking People, Fever, and Ask Again, Yes.

It’s difficult for me – and I suspect, for most writers – to pinpoint the inspiration for a novel, because so much of that chemistry takes place in the subconscious.  For me, a novel comes from some question that’s haunting me, even if I don’t know what that question is, exactly. It’s like a nagging feeling in my belly that I suddenly start paying more attention to. It takes an entire draft to figure out the question, and another draft or two to figure out the answer. Not very efficient! With this book, I was mostly thinking about love, how for some people it seems easy to nourish even as people age and life changes, but for some people it’s not so easy. I wondered why. The same goes for forgiveness. I was also thinking about how much we owe our partners and ourselves within a relationship that’s tested. Who do we protect first, and most fiercely? Ourselves? Or the person we’ve committed ourselves to? What does forgiveness actually mean, in practice? 

When I startedAsk Again, Yes  I’d been working on another novel but wasn’t getting very far. Friends and family around me were struggling with old demons and new ones: addiction, infidelity, divorce, depression, estrangement. Mental illness is like a ghost that haunts my extended friends and family – that’s probably true for most people – but when I stood back and really looked through the generations, I began to see the scale of the tragedy that results from not getting the help one needs. There was joy, too–people having children, finding love, doing well at work, but in many cases the joy seemed tempered by what came before. 

In these past few weeks, while we’ve all been stuck at home, I’ve been remembering more about how I began Ask Again, Yes, the small moments I noticed within families, and what they told me about our connection to one another. We’re all feeling afraid and anxious right now – if not for our health or the health of our loved ones, then for our livelihoods going forward. As my younger son asked me recently, “will the world be the same after?” It’s a good question. 


Ask Again, Yes
Mary Beth Keane

One of the most beloved novels of the year, the 2019 Tonight Show Summer Reads pick and “magnificent” (NPR) New York Times bestseller offers “profound insights about blame, forgiveness, and abiding love” (People) about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the friendship between their children, the daily intimacies of marriage, and the power of forgiveness.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the explosive events to come.

“A beautiful novel, bursting at the seams with empathy” (Elle), Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting and “smartly told” (Entertainment Weekly) exploration of the lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope, born six months apart. One shocking night their loyalties are divided, and their bond will be tested again and again over the next forty years. Heartbreaking and redemptive, Ask Again, Yes is a gorgeous portrait of a relationship haunted by echoes from the past, yet marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.

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