Mary Beth Keane picks her recent reading list.

Image: Nina Subin

American author Mary Beth Keane put herself on the literary map ages ago – after publishing her first novel in 2010, she was named one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” in 2011 – but it’s with her latest, Ask Again, Yes, that she’s poised to make her biggest waves yet.

Released in 2019, Keane’s third novel is a widescreen story of two American families, the nature of time and the power of redemption that made its way to the New York Times bestseller list and the Radio 2 Summer Book Club, and earned Keane an invite to The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

With Ask Again, Yes now out in paperback, we asked Keane to tell us what she’s been reading lately.

The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams (2020)

Clare Beams takes a shocking moment out of true history, and brings it to life. The story – about a mysterious illness spreading through a progressive New England girls school in the 1870s – felt eerily relevant to the present day climate of fear, illness, suspicion. And I loved that she upended my idea of what women were like in the 1870s. Prim and dutiful at first glance, yes, but full of rich interior lives driven by passion and rage.

Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan (2020)

The story is about a new mother's relationship with her babysitter after moving away from Brooklyn to a small town in upstate New York, but it's really about class, privilege, and identity, and all the ways we lie to ourselves and to the people we love. I thought it was an incredibly nuanced portrait of domestic life and female friendship.

Dominicana by Angie Cruz (2020)

The main character here, Ana, rises from the page fully formed. Plucked from her childhood in the Dominican Republic and married at 15 to a man in his thirties, I rooted for her from the moment I met her. It’s a novel of immigration and leaving home – a genre I’m always drawn to – but more than that she is a girl, and then a woman, trying to find power in a world ruled by men. I felt such a strong sense of kinship with her.

Listen to an extract from Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (2020)

A reader need not be a student of Shakespeare to appreciate this book. Grief, hope, resilience – the world of this novel is so vivid I could nearly smell the grass in the fields. In moments where the story shoots up to heaven I was there, too, feeling how lucky we all are to be alive, understanding how desperately we want the people we love to be remembered.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson (2020)

A totally original novel that snuck up on me as I was reading. I knew the premise before I began – the kids burst into flames – but I was sceptical that I would like it. I lost all doubt by the end of the first paragraph. The truths Wilson arrives at, the moments of humanity – I fell completely in love with this weird book.

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore (2020)

This story follows the aftershocks of a brutal crime in a small West Texas community. Wetmore understands the nuances of the human heart better than almost any writer I’ve read in recent years, and I rooted for these women with everything I have. There is violence here, and despair, but in the end the story is a testament to quiet courage and to hope.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane is out now.

  • Ask Again, Yes

  • THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER AND RADIO 2 SUMMER BOOK CLUB PICK

    'The new Little Fires Everywhere . . . The perfect summer read' STYLIST

    'Stunning! An absolutely brilliant, gorgeously-written novel. A must-read for our time' LISA TADDEO, author of Three Women

    'Immersive and deeply moving' ANNA HOPE, author of Expectation

    'I absolutely adored it' LIANE MORIARTY, bestselling author of Big Little Lies
    _____________

    Two ordinary families. One life-changing day . . .

    When the Gleesons and the Stanhopes become neighbours, lonely Lena Gleeson wants a friend. But Anne Stanhope - cold, elegant, unstable - wants to be left alone.

    It's left to their children - Lena's youngest, Kate, and Anne's only child, Peter - to find their way to one another.

    To form a friendship whose resilience and love will be almost broken by the fault line dividing both families, and a tragedy that will engulf them all.

    A tragedy whose true origins only become clear many years later . . .

    When everything has fallen apart, can their children's love pull it back together again?

    _____________

    A BOOK OF THE YEAR IN PRIMA, VOGUE, PEOPLE, ELLE AND NPR

    'Keane takes on one of the most difficult problems in fiction - how to write about human decency . . . a compelling case for compassion over blame, understanding over grudge, and the resilience of hearts that can accept the contradictions of love' Louise Erdrich, National Book Award winning author of The Round House

    'Leaves one shaking one's head in frank admiration. A triumph'
    Matthew Thomas, bestselling author of We Are Not Ourselves

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