It is set in Ireland where Dana, stricken with cancer, is in hospice care having returned from Australia to die. Her friend Susan is torn between envy of Dana’s achievements and regrets for the all too short future. This is not a bleak tragedy but rather a joyous story in praise of life and love.
Review in the NZ Herald by Cheryl Pearl Sucher
Yes begins in Dublin of 1990 as a recalcitrant “Maybe.” Susan, a “plumply ripe” 36-year-old spinster who works successfully in computers, is reluctantly taking a bus and train ride from the centre of the city to the seaside village of Bray, the last stop on the line – literally and figuratively. Her estranged friend Dana – returned from Australia with her husband and their two young daughters – is dying and has summoned Susan for a reunion at the hospice.
Ironically, it was Dana who was “outgoing, voluptuous and spontaneous,” while Susan, or Suze, was studious and shy, gifted with a promising artistic temperament.
They saw themselves as two halves of a whole: one blond, the other dark-haired; one free-spirited and blessed with modern, happily married parents, the other withdrawn and self-critical, cursed by a dandy of a father and a mother whose “role in her life had been one of constant erosion.”
Like many intense adolescent friendships marked by intimations of love, their union is irreversibly damaged by the introduction of their first serious suitor, Brian, whom they both met on a train ride from London to Dublin in the season before they entered Trinity College. Brian initially favoured Suze, then found his head turned by bold, vivacious Dana.
When Brain and Dana married, Suze’s love for her friend turned to envious rage, and after the newlyweds left for Australia Suze left behind her own dreams of sexual and creative fulfilment. The unanticipated reunion catapults her into a well of unresolved emotion and painful memory.
The landscape which rolls past her window as she leaves Dublin for Bray reflects her own buried feelings. The Irish Sea is a Joycean “snotgreen,” the right colour for a city festering from neglect, rotting with wasted lives, and standing still in a world racing towards modernity.
It is the wilful Dana who long in the past met Suze’s mother’s proscriptive warnings with “be blowed to your Ma!” who forces her friend to confront who she truly is and what she really wants out of life.
The exposition of this rekindled friendship is the strength of this quiet novel. Suze and Dana transcend stereotypes to become compelling characters reconstructing a past mired in guilt, envy and misunderstanding.
Rosier-Jones also successfully recreates the world of the hospice, where caring is the imprimatur, relationships are tenuous, and even the brightest of rooms are darkened by the onset of tragedy.
Suze’s future is the book’s only open question; this is part of its structural dilemma, as there are few surprises in the plot. From the first page the reader is aware that Dana’s death will bring Suze back to life.
In this way, the novel is reminiscent of Mary Gordon’s Final Payments, about a caretaking, middle-aged daughter liberated by the death of her invalid father to become the woman she has never allowed herself to be. But Yeslacks Gordon’s ground-breaking originality.
The liberation of Suze’s repressed sexuality is frequently underscored by overheated prose that would have been enhanced by subtlety. However, given its limitations, this book is a heartfelt elucidation of the travels of one lonely woman upon the road not taken.