Happy September! Already a few days into the new month, I don’t want any more time to go by without a quick reflection about Mary Beth Keane’s newest bestseller, Ask Again, Yes. Like so many of you, I was absolutely riveted by this story and captivated by the idea of how small decisions can have long-lasting effects.
While on the London leg of her book tour, Mary Beth took some time out to answer some of my questions about her amazing novel. (Spoiler alert: There are some plot details spilled below. Skip to the bottom of this interview if you’re still reading the book!)
In my opinion, the premise of Ask Again, Yes is that no good deed goes unpunished. Was this idea running through your head when you had Francis return Brian’s gun?
I can’t say I ever have any idea that feels quite that clear as I’m writing it, but when I talked to police officers while I was researching this book one thing that came up with almost all of them was making the wrong decision and having that wrong decision come back to haunt them. And it was often something that seemed small.
Did you know how Peter and Kate’s story was going to unfold when you started?
No. I knew they’d reconnect as adults but I didn’t even know if it would be romantic or not. Even heading into writing Part Four, I didn’t know if they’d stay together or not.
Did you hope that readers would feel sympathetic to Brian after he left Peter behind?
That’s a good question. I don’t really think about how people/readers will feel when I’m writing. I just write. And then afterwards, the reactions that come to me often mirror mine, but sometimes they’re surprising. I think I have a little more sympathy for Brian than most people do. He’s certainly selfish, and he did the wrong thing in leaving, but he was also very young when he got married and in a way I think he was trying to save his own life–trying to find happiness or joy when there hadn’t been any. I think he stepped into something much bigger than he could handle during a time when so few people understood anything about mental illness, and certainly couldn’t articulate it. I see him leaving Peter behind as something he lied to himself about. I sort of imagine him believing he’d send for Peter or see him again one day right up until the moment he died. I think humans have an enormous capacity to lie to themselves.
How did you come up with the title? What does it mean to you?
The title is from Ulysses. I had a few touchstone pieces of literature I read over and over while I was writing this book, and one was Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the end of Ulysses. “Ask again yes” is the famous conclusion to that story, but the comma is mine.
Before I let Mary Beth go, I asked her some personal questions on the fly.
Of all time? Probably William Trevor. In recent history, probably Elizabeth Strout. Or Louise Erdrich.
Favorite fictional character?
I don’t think I have one! This depends entirely on my mood. Could be anyone from Anne of Green Gables to Tony Soprano.
Favorite place write?
What is your Starbucks order?
Blonde roast with a splash of half and half. Boring, I know.
Last impulse purchase?
A pair of gold hoop earrings.
I binge watch television shows. I’m into the Handmaid’s Tale right now.
With Mary Beth’s thoughts about Ask Again, Yes fresh on our minds, I’d like to hear from you. My answers are in the comments below.
- Do you think this story would ever have unfolded as it did if Francis had followed the letter of the law?
- What does the book’s title mean to you?
I can’t wait to hear what you have to say! Be sure to check back soon to find out what we’ll be reading this September.