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.
America, said Horace, the office temp, was a run-down and demented pimp. Our republic's whoremaster days were through. Whither that frost-nerved, diamond-fanged hustler who'd stormed Normandy, dick-smacked the Soviets, turned out such firm emerging market flesh? Now our nation slumped in the corner of the pool hall, some gummy coot with a pint of Mad Dog and soggy yellow eyes, just another mark for the juvenile wolves.
"We're the bitches of the First World," said Horace, his own eyes braziers of delight.
We all loved Horace, his clownish pronouncements. He was a white kid from Armonk who had learned to speak and feel from a half-dozen VHS tapes in his father's garage. Besides, here at our desks with our turkey wraps, I did not disagree.
But I let him have it. It was my duty. We were in what they call a university setting. A bastion of, et cetera. Little did I know this was my last normal day at said bastion, that my old friend Purdy was about to butt back into my world, mangle ...
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).
Full Review (918 words).
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:
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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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