Given a cursory glance at the cover of Ask Again, Yes, one might mistake it for Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. And while that’s a reasonable comparison in terms of aesthetics (both books have bird’s-eye-view images of suburban towns in shades of blue and green) and subject matter (both follow two families with histories far more complicated than meets the eye), it kind of totally misses the point.
Mary Beth Keane’s newest novel (which, it bears mentioning, also landed on the New York Times best-seller list) tackles the tale of the traditional American family in a way all its own. It follows two childhood sweethearts, next-door neighbors in an East Coast suburb, whose lineage is more complicated than any we’ve read of late. The story of Peter Stanhope and Kate Gleason, best friends who are torn apart in eighth grade due to unspeakable tragedy, has resonated with many readers this summer. Ahead, the author fills her fans in on her process.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is the first thing — ever — that you remember writing?
MARY BETH KEANE: A descriptive paragraph about a baked potato. I was in fourth grade.
What is the last book that made you cry?
All We Shall Know, by Donal Ryan.
What is your favorite part of Ask Again, Yes?
Which book is at the top of your current To-Read list?
Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips.
Where do you write?
In my house. I sort of move between my office, the couch, and the kitchen island to be near the tea kettle.
Which book made you a forever reader?
Anne of Green Gables.
What is a snack you couldn’t write without?
Barry’s Irish tea, the gold blend.
What was the hardest part to write in Ask Again, Yes?
Anne Stanhope, because the book spans 40 years and she was suffering from mental illness at a time before we had sufficient vocabulary for what she was going through. It was incredibly intimidating to enter her point of view.
If you could change one thing about any of your books, what would it be?
I wish I’d insisted on a jacket I liked more for my first book. I didn’t want to be difficult, but that was a mistake.
If Ask Again, Yes had a movie poster tagline, it would be:
A story about two families brought together by happenstance, divided by tragedy, and the enduring power of love (this is why I don’t write movie taglines).