Ask Again, Yes spans over four decades, and tells the story of two families, and how their lives have become tied together. It starts when the two fathers are rookie cops together on the force, though even from this very beginning, they have very different personalities. Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are both beginning their careers in the force in the early 1970s, both are about to get married and start families, and as a result, it is not a surprise that both soon find themselves moving to the suburbs to provide a certain life style to those families.
Initially, the novel gives the reader much more insight into Francis and his wife Lena, and only provides their views of Brian and Anne Stanhope, who are just bit off – she is stand-offish and seems to hold herself above it all, while Brian may be too fond of that drink over lunch. Francis and Lena, though – salt of the earth middle class family. They soon have a house full of daughters, and Francis rises in his career.
Their daughter Katie becomes close with Peter, the sweet and shy son of Brian and Lena, and it is through his view that the reader gains more understanding of the Stanhope household and relationships. His mother needs helps as her moods are unpredictable but it is beyond a child’s capacity to fix, and his father has slowly given up. This eventually leads to an event that will have long lasting consequences for both families.
Despite this destructive event, Katie and Peter reconnect, bonded by their mutual childhood, and soon recreate the kind of life they saw their parents live, with many of the previous issues repeating themselves from one generation to the next. I really liked the first half of this book as it set the stage and created these very real characters who were also a victim of their time and circumstances. Anne obviously needed help but being the late 70’s/early 80s, all their problems were very much behind closed doors, preventing her from getting real solutions.
However, while the first half of the novel was a very in depth character study, the next half jumped between decades, checking in with Katie and Peter and their parents as they hit major life milestones until their need to ignore all the events of the past finally come to a head in their day to day lives.
It’s not that it was a bad approach and definitely allowed the author to cover more ground without becoming a huge novel. Still, after the slower build of the beginning, I wished the last half could have had that same deep focus but it would have been difficult to catch the reader up in other ways.
Overall, I liked the novel though it was a bit dark. Peter was the more interesting character while Katie was a bit bland, and while I understood why she became so important to Peter’s life, I’m not sure the reverse was explained as well; it was more that she created an early idea of what she wanted her life to be and made it happen regardless of circumstances. Despite her actions, Anne was the most fascinating character in the novel to me as it was easy to wonder what she might have done if she hadn’t gotten pregnant and trapped into a relationship that obviously wasn’t a right fit, and had been able to get treatment early on.