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The Ask: A Novel Hardcover – March 2, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2010: How can a life so miserable be so funny? Is it because the stakes are so low (Milo Burke, the antihero of Sam Lipsyte's novel, The Ask, is a failure at many things, but most prominently at his job of pulling in major donors for a deadwater arts program at a middling university neither you nor he care about), or because they are so high (among them death, love, and the general squandering of the glories of creation on trivia)? Lipsyte's brilliant bile earned his previous novel, Home Land, one of the most passionate cult followings in recent years, and in The Ask that verbal invention is often the only thing that can rouse Milo and his peers from their ennui. They bait and badger each other and toss off complex cultural analyses to little effect, all the while haunted by the gap between wit and wisdom. Lipsyte manages to be both sour and tender to his characters, Milo in particular, whose barest shambles toward self-respect come to seem like the first baby steps of an honorable quest. --Tom Nissley

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Lipsyte's pitch-black comedy takes aim at marriage, work, parenting, abject failure (the author's signature soapbox) and a host of subjects you haven't figured out how to feel bad about yet. This latest slice of mucked-up life follows Milo Burke, a washed-up painter living in Astoria, Queens, with his wife and three-year-old son, as he's jerked in and out of employment at a mediocre university where Milo and his equally jaded cohorts solicit funding from the Asks, or those who financially support the art program. Milo's latest target is Purdy Stuart, a former classmate turned nouveau aristocrat to whom Milo quickly becomes indentured. Purdy, it turns out, needs Milo to deliver payments to Purdy's illegitimate son, a veteran of the Iraq War whose titanium legs are fodder for a disgruntlement that makes the chip on Milo's shoulder a mere speck of dust by comparison. Submission is the order of the day, but where Home Land had a working-class trajectory, this takes its tone of lucid lament to the devastated white-collar sector; in its merciless assault on the duel between privilege and expectation, it arrives at a rare articulation of empire in decline. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (March 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374298912
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374298913
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #200,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sam Lipsyte is the author of Venus Drive, a collection of short stories to be published by Flamingo in Dec 2002. His work has appeared in The New York Times and The Quarterly. He was born in 1968 and lives in New York City. This is his first novel.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 76 people found the following review helpful By EJ on March 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The humor in this book is as dark as it comes, and the writing is delightfully nasty. Centered around Milo Burke, a married office drone with a 3-year-old son, the title of the book comes from asking donors for money to support the "Mediocre College at New York City", where Milo toils each day. Milo is terrifically, hysterically bitter, with a horrible and wonderful gift for offensive words and phrases. The story follows Milo as he faces a myriad of challenges in his daily life.

There is no part of this book that is uplifting except for the humor itself. I actually laughed out loud several times, and bookmarked a few of the choice phrases for later reference. I particularly enjoyed the laser-like precision of Milo's views on life with a 3-year old, which are really, truly, a spot-on and honest look at the frustrations (and joy) of being the parent of a young child in these times.

I would recommend this book to most of my friends, but not to my mother. I don't think she's ready for this type of language.
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59 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Glen L. Loveland on March 4, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was in New York and read a review of the book in the Village Voice. At the Atlanta airport I decided to buy the book on my Kindle and started reading it. Within minutes I was sitting in the airport and was laughing so loud that I must've looked nuts. Bottom line: if you are kind of feeling a little bitter about life right now - and who isn't with this economy - you need to read this book. It's as acidic and dirty as they come, but you're guaranteed to laugh!
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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful By William H. Payne on April 23, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
It's neither unfair nor unkind to say that Lipsyte is not a fiction writer. He's a satirist who uses the novel format to tumble along from one lampoonable scenario to the next. However, in this prior work, the ad hoc silliness of his plots eventually break the snark barrier to leave the reader with something truly imaginative.

"The Ask" does not do this. Lipsyte keeps his feet on the firmament of bitter social satire, delivering something that is more Celine than surreal. His main character/narrator is an aging Gen Xer, an overweight archetype of the generation whose members didn't have it to begin with and still don't, unless they inherited it and invested it well. Lipsyte's narrator did not inherit. Despite his privileged upbringing, the narrator has nothing going for him except for his brilliant vocabulary and overwrought fantasies about parenthood. Lipsyte's keen eye for the most repugnant permutations of hipster cultural currency and late-day yuppie striving is unreal. Even though the novel is set in Queens and Manhattan, everyone 30-40 will find something recognizable. It is a fun game. When he gets going, Lipsyte can flip out dialogue and diatribe that makes the book worth reading.

However, fans of social satire will notice that Lipsyte pretty much contents himself with the low-hanging fruit: reality TV, ideological day care disasters, Internet porn, bitter Iraqi vets, corporate greed, Bushwick, over-priced hind milk, male infantilism, postmodern critical theory, meth . . . everything you'd expect to find in the Great Unamerican Novel. It's been done. It's all over the "interweb," a term the narrator loathes. See, e.g., [...] (pretty much the same satirical game done just as well).

Lipsytes knows this.
Read more ›
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Seth Rogovoy on April 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When was the last time you read an American novel narrated by a perfectly calibrated, put-upon American everyman who was wholly unlikable but hysterically and mischievously funny, the tool of an author who found the perfect narrative setting -- in this case, a college development office -- from which to skewer and satirize the entirety of American culture?

Sam Lipsyte's The Ask put me in mind of nothing less than Joseph Heller's two great works of literary and cultural satire, Catch-22 and Something Happened. In The Ask, everything and everyone is evil and stupid in the most banal of ways -- simply because the culture calls upon everyone to act contrary to the way they know things should be. It's not only that politically correctness has run amok; it's that social relationships, even down to the nuclear family, have been shattered and atomized and digitized and because everything has been blown up into hyper-reality when there's no core reality.

The Ask tells an utterly ridiculous story featuring ridiculous people who are all the object of ridicule at their own hands and at the hands of their creator, Lipsyte. That the story is so real, and that you can't put it down, makes it all the more urgent and of our time. I can't think of another novel that so captures this cultural, economic, social, and political moment in America than Sam Lipsyte's The Ask. Isn't this what we want from our art, our literature?
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Miami Reviewer on August 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I love a black, satirical, self-loathing comedy, but I didn't love this. I'm fine with the nasty characters (and can even sympathize with some of them), but I found myself dragging through this book. The story sort of wandered, and while I guess there was some direction, it just wasn't compelling enough for me. Yes, this book has great writing and fantastic quips and mini-scenes, but there wasn't enough glue between them to keep me hooked. And after you've read the 20th funny back-and-forth sitaution, you start to find it hard to pay attention to all 4 pages of it, because by this time you're just not that vested in the story line. For a self-loathing novel, suggest How To Be Good, by Nick Hornby, which I couldn't put down.
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