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Review by Mike Agger in Slate.com
We walk the halls of Barnes & Noble, lost, pale, and discontent. Surrounded by rows and rows of Nice Writing, we search in vain for a novel that will make us laugh....
Might I suggest a new place to stop? The collected works of Sam Lipsyte. Over the course of two novels and a short story collection, Lipsyte has become a fine microbrewer of bitterness. He's also an apt writer for our meritocratic moment. In America, we labour under the delusion that if we were all just a little more highly effective, a little more focused, we could ascend into a realm of first-class check-in, enviable real estate, and unruffled contentment.
Lipsyte's heroes are not well-rounded; they are the gnarled apples left on the tree. They say the wrong things, choose the wrong paths, own a lame cell phone, and eat the wrong food. But they have a semblance of integrity and the freewheeling wisdom of the loser.
The outer borough Socrates of Lipsyte's new novel, The Ask, is Milo Burke. Milo loses his job but gets the chance to win it back when a mysterious "ask" surfaces.
In Lipsyte's past work, he's been hampered by an inability to write a simple sentence without a pun, a play on words, a delicately rendered sexual fantasy, or a tasteless metaphor. In The Ask, Lipsyte eases back on the throttle and reaches for something more than a sentence that produces a knowing chuckle.
Milo knows and accepts that he'll never be a famous painter, author, musician, or simply famous. He knows that more and more in American life, it's all or nothing, celebrity or failure, fame or obscurity. Instead of finding the middle distance for our aspirations, we line up for reality shows. After his many trials, Milo does what more of us should do: make a little nest of our bitterness.
At first I thought that Lipsyte is kinder and gentler in this novel, but maybe it's his most cutting creation yet.
Review by Believer Magazine
Sam Lipsyte wants you to shit your pants. By that I mean parts of The Ask are so sphincter-looseningly funny that you will want to invest in some adult undergarments before reading it. As the author of several previous novels, including the Believer Book Award–winning Home Land, Lipsyte has cultivated a well-earned reputation as our preeminent chronicler of the absurd. There isn’t a funnier author working today. But what makes The Ask so incredible is that the delightfully nasty jokes, puns, and malapropisms—and they are delightfully nasty—serve the development of the characters and a plot that isn’t all that riotous. There’s a serious story here and this is a novel of real maturity, albeit one that routinely employs words like “dick-smacked.”
As featured by Toni Whitmont in the April Booktopia Buzz.
When Milo Burke, a balding, slope-bellied 'donations' officer at a minor New York university, has a disastrous run-in with a rich undergraduate, he winds up on the unemployed scrap heap. Grasping at odd jobs to support his wife and young son, he's offered one last chance - he must reel in a potential donor - a major 'Ask' - who, mysteriously, has requested his involvement.
It turns out that the Ask' is Milo's sinister college buddy Purdy Stuart, and the 'give' won't come cheap. Before long Milo finds himself serving as a queasy mix of factotum, bagman, client state and sounding board to Purdy, who assigns him the task of delivering hush money to his secret illegitimate son, a legless and spectacularly embittered Iraq War veteran...
Can Milo win back his job, reclaim his manhood and do justice to his marriage, or is he destined to chug down the gurgler, becoming yet another sad statistic of modern-day America? Skewering modern-day themes including work, war, sex, class, child-rearing, romantic comedies, cooking shows on death row and the eroticisation of chicken wire.
The Ask is a burst of genius by a young American master who demonstrates that truly provocative and important fictions are often the funniest.
About The Author
Sam Lipsyte was born in 1968. He is the author of the story collection Venus Drive (named one of the top 25 books of its year by the Voice Literary Supplement) and two novels. The Subject Steve and Home Land, which was a New York Times Notable Book and received the first annual Believer Book Award. He lives in Queens, New York City.