Mary Beth Keane's new novel is...one of the most unpretentiously profound books I've read in a long time ... By switching perspective in every chapter, so that the narrative moves forward through the voice and world view of almost every member of the two families here, Keane develops her characters far beyond glib stereotypes ... Though Keane is younger than most of her characters, she writes with deep familiarity and precision about the lives of this particular generation of blue-collar Catholic New Yorkers ... As a writer, Keane reminds me a lot of Ann Patchett: Both have the magical ability to seem to be telling 'only' a closely-observed domestic tale that transforms into something else deep and, yes, universal. In Keane's case, that 'something else' is a story about forgiveness and acceptance—qualities that sound gooey, but are so hard to achieve in life. And, in the final moments of this modestly magnificent novel, even that blah title of Ask Again, Yes is ingeniously redeemed.
...well-wrought, emotionally affecting ... [a] beautifully observed story ... a narrative that holds many surprises, large and small ... Ask Again, Yes is a tale that will compel readers to think deeply about the ravages of unacknowledged mental illness, questions of family love and loyalty and the arduous journey toward healing and forgiveness.
Keane...writes about mental illness and substance abuse with acute sensitivity, and her characters are consistently, authentically lived-in. But they can also feel like less than the sum of their struggles: A late flashback to Anne’s native Ireland offers an enticing but too-brief glimpse of the formative pain in her past; Peter works so hard to tamp down his own trauma that he becomes a sort of cipher. It all makes for a tale smartly and solidly told, without ever quite piercing the veil that separates the reader from the human puzzle pieces on the page.
Keane’s quiet capability embraces a three-generational plot, multiple character perspectives and some complicated topics, notably mental health and addiction ... a broad yet domestic canvas ... Gentle but affecting, Keane’s novel delivers a mature version of a narrative likely to appeal widely. Love will weather vicissitudes. It doesn’t get more conventional, nor special, than that.
Even if it occasionally seems like Keane’s male characters seek refuge for their troubles in predictable ways, this is a haunting look at what happens when mental illness goes undefined. The slow-burning and nameless terror it creates swallows everyone in its path.
... both gripping and exhausting ... The differences between the two families are well defined in the first third of the book, as are their basic struggles simply to keep their heads above water. The conversations between the couples would not feel out of place in a John Cheever story, with surface small talk masking the often-tumultuous rivers of despair lying beneath an apparently idyllic exterior ... Mental illness is something we understand in more detail today but in the 1970s and 1980s, where much of this novel is set, there was a great deal of ignorance and misconceptions about the condition. Keane, who wrote so well about life on North Brother Island, where Typhoid Mary was held, offers similar insights into Anne’s world when the medical authorities are finally entrusted with her care. But it’s in the heart-breaking relationship between her and Peter – a son who is trying his best to help a mother who is unable to appreciate his love – that much of the novel’s power lies ... a novel of great compassion and understanding. It concerns itself with forgiveness for, in accepting Peter and Kate’s relationship, both houses must overcome the past. If there is a flaw in the writing, however, it is perhaps that the novel feels overlong, with scenes occasionally overstaying their welcome. One feels great empathy towards Peter but there are moments when his saintliness becomes a little too emphatic ... But this is a small complaint, for Ask Again, Yes is an engaging novel, rich with story, and one of the better studies of the effects of mental illness on family life that I have read.
Displaying impressive reach in this third—and possibly breakout—novel, Keane delivers an epic of domestic emotional turmoil ... Narrated from multiple perspectives, in compassionate but cool tones, Keane’s story embraces family lives in all their muted, ordinary, yet seismic shades ... Tender and patient, the novel avoids excessive sweetness while planting itself deep in the soil of commitment and attachment ... Graceful and mature. A solidly satisfying, immersive read.
... thoughtful, compassionate ... The two families’ stories offer a visceral portrait of evolving attitudes toward mental health and addiction over the past 40 years. More generally, Keane’s novel, which unfolds through overlapping narratives, illustrates the mutability of memory and the softening effects of time ... Kate and Peter’s story poignantly demonstrates how grace can emerge from forgiveness, no matter how hard-won.