Sam Lipsyte on Milo Burke: Background information when reading The Ask

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The Ask

A Novel

by Sam Lipsyte

The Ask by Sam Lipsyte X
The Ask by Sam Lipsyte
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2010, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2011, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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About this Book

Sam Lipsyte on Milo Burke

This article relates to The Ask

Print Review

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?

Lipsyte: I started about five years ago writing about a similar character. I tried it a few different ways. It was third person for a while. It was multi-voiced. I gave my wife a few hundred pages a couple of years ago. It sat on her bedside table for a while, mostly unread, and then she read the whole thing and told me it sucked.

I started again. But a big turning point was when I figured out what he did for a living. And that came from hearing somebody use the word "ask" in the certain manner characters use it in the book.

Kimball: …What changed when you figured that out?

Lipsyte: Stanley Elkin said he had to know a character's job before he could really begin. It wasn't exactly like that for me, but it did make a lot of things fall together. It set up a lot of the problems. It gave the book motion. Also, I began to understand what kinds of notions the novel was churning up, not that I ever really know the whole of it, but I recognized certain patterns in the book, mostly connected to this idea of the ask, the panic and anxiety attendant, all the formalized and sometimes disguised begging we do in our work life and our relationships. Stability is gone, security has been hollowed out, which makes us depend on certain kinds of largesse more and more. At least that's the experience of many people I know, and many of the characters in the book.

Read the interview in full

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Ask. It originally ran in April 2010 and has been updated for the March 2011 paperback edition.

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