Ask Me Again

Socioeconomic divides don't have to be exclusionary, a truism Clare Sestanovich (Objects of Desire) examines in Ask Me Again. Sestanovich has received well-deserved acclaim for her short stories, and with her easygoing first novel, she explores her themes more deeply.

The setting is Brooklyn, N.Y., from the mid-2000s to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Teenage Eva is distinctly middle class, growing up an only child to a teacher mom and aspiring artist dad, both of whom "had certain ideas about rich people." One assumes that Jamie, Eva's wealthy contemporary who lives in an Upper East Side penthouse with his divorced art-collector dad, received a different lesson. Yet that penthouse is a place Jamie "often could not bear to return to." Soon, he makes himself a permanent guest at Eva's home, an arrangement her parents surprisingly embrace.

Part of the pleasure of this novel is the care Sestanovich takes to explore her characters' motivations as their lives take unpredictable turns, such as Eva's post-college internship at a Washington, D.C., newspaper, or the extremes to which Jamie goes in rejecting his family's wealth, extremes that include joining Occupy Wall Street and getting involved with an unconventional church. Further complicating relations are Eli, Eva's boyfriend from college who gets a job with a U.S. senator, and Jess, a rising star in Congress with whom Eva develops a close friendship. Like the novels of Elif Batuman, Ask Me Again follows 20-something urbanites through the vicissitudes of love and career. If not as tightly written as Sestanovich's short stories, the novel is an insightful portrait of the challenges of anxious young lives. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

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