Milo Burke, a development officer at a third-tier university, has "not been developing": after a run-in with a well-connected undergrad, he finds himself among the burgeoning class of the newly unemployed. Grasping after odd jobs to support his wife and child, Milo is offered one last chance by his former employer: he must reel in a potential donora major "ask"who, mysteriously, has requested Milo's involvement. But it turns out that the ask is Milo's sinister college classmate Purdy Stuart. And the "give" won't come cheap.
Probing many themesor, perhaps, anxietiesincluding work, war, sex, class, child rearing, romantic comedies, Benjamin Franklin, cooking shows on death row, and the eroticization of chicken wire, The Ask is a burst of genius by a young American master who has already demonstrated that the truly provocative and important fictions are often the funniest ones.
No sacred cows are spared by Sam Lipsyte's laser wit as he chronicles the analog life and digital times of protagonist Milo Burke. What this means is, rather than a sleek, flashy hi-def 21st century video game Milo's tale more easily resembles an old-fashioned pinball game... The Ask makes delicious fun at the expense of this man whose job consists of begging (called "the ask") donations (called "the give") from tightfisted millionaires to benefit his third-rate university. (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).
The Los Angeles Times
In Lipsyte's attempt to broaden the scope of his satire, "The Ask" feels laborious and unfiltered, harnessing little of [Home Land's] narrative momentum.
The New York Times - Lydia Millet
Sam Lipsyte's third novel, The Ask, is a dark and jaded beast — the sort of book that, if it were an animal, would be a lumbering, hairy, cryptozoological ape-man with a near-crippling case of elephantiasis. That's not to say The Ask isn't well hewn, funny or sophisticated, because in fact it's all three…Lipsyte is not only a smooth sentence-maker, he's also a gifted critic of power.
The Washington Post - Michael Dirda The Ask is unquestionably funny, it's by no means essentially comic. Its theme, after all, is loss, often heartbreaking loss…In the end, the dazzle simply highlights the darkness and the despair.
... the gift is Sam Lipsyte's writing: a chewy, corrosive, and syntactically dazzling prose style that doesn't so much run across the page as pick it up and throttle it. You may want to throttle Milo yourself frequently, but you won't stop reading. (A–)
A treasure trove of brilliant asides and one-liners, this never really comes together as a coherent novel. Still, Lipsyte's fans will be looking for it.
Starred Review. In its merciless assault on the duel between privilege and expectation, it arrives at a rare articulation of empire in decline.
Starred Review. Seriously funny, Lipsyte sits alongside such illustrious Daves as Gates, Eggers, and Foster Wallace on the self-conscious shelf, but with a heartfelt brilliance all his own.
The author's most ambitious work yet - a brilliant and scabrously entertaining riff on contemporary America.
Maybe there is no topic of greater interest to fiction readers than how characters develop. Where do they come from? Do authors fashion them after people they know? Do characters do the author's bidding or do they lead the way for the author? Milo Burke is a character outside the pale of most protagonists, certainly not a traditional sad-sack loser by any means. What's more, his profession as a development officer for a mediocre university makes one wonder: from whence did Milo spring? Is The Ask autobiographical? Is Milo a caricature of someone Lipsyte knows?
In a March 2, 2010 interview with Michael Kimball from The Faster Times, Sam Lipsyte opens up about the process of developing this character. Here are some excerpts:
Kimball: So how did you get going on The Ask and where did you start - with a bit of emotion, a sentence, a character, something else?
It's a story about how to wreck your marriage, how to help the homeless, how not to raise your kids, how to find religion . . . and how to be good. 'Hornby's quick eye and nimble observational style nail everyone's vanity'.
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