Summary and book reviews of The Ask by Sam Lipsyte

The Ask

A Novel

by Sam Lipsyte

The Ask
  • Critics' Opinion:

    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

Book Summary

Probing many themes—or, perhaps, anxieties—including 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.

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 donor—a 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 themes—or, perhaps, anxieties—including 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.

Chapter One

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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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).

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Media Reviews

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.

Entertainment Weekly

... 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–)

Library Journal

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.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In its merciless assault on the duel between privilege and expectation, it arrives at a rare articulation of empire in decline.

Booklist

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.

Kirkus Reviews

The author's most ambitious work yet - a brilliant and scabrously entertaining riff on contemporary America.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Sam Lipsyte on Milo Burke

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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