four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
46-May-June-2010
By: 
Sam Lipsyte
user_rating: 
0

A-The AskSam Lipsyte is the author of Venus Drive: Stories (2000), The Subject Steve (2002), and Home Land (2004).

The Story: For Gen Xer Milo Burke, life can best be described as mediocre. His dreams of an artistic career have long since vanished; he now plods his way through a job as a fund-raising officer for a third-rate New York university. When Milo is fired after insulting a wealthy donor's daughter, he finds potential salvation in Purdy Stuart, an old classmate. Now a wealthy businessman, Purdy is prepared to donate a large sum of money to the university as long as Milo handles the account. But Purdy's offer comes with a catch that will test Milo's self-respect.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 296 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780374298913

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he 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." Leah Greenblatt

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[O]ne of the best novels of the year. ... [E]ven though Burke may not quite grasp what it is he's driving, or where he's going, we are happy to go along with him on this fine ride called life." Frank Bures

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"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." Lydia Millet

Slate.com 4 of 5 Stars
"Over the course of two novels and a short story collection, Lipsyte has become a fine microbrewer of bitterness. ... [H]is most cutting creation yet." Michael Agger

Los Angeles Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Some of Lipsyte's set-pieces are exceedingly bizarre (and unfunny), and even the most disparate characters seem to be drawing upon the same vernacular--which is to say, they all sound similarly repugnant. ... The Ask delivers its articulation of class rage in a sometimes mean-spirited package." Akiva Gottlieb

Critical Summary

In his vastly entertaining--but dark--social satire, Lipsyte exposes the plight of the highly educated and discontented. Critics particularly enjoyed protagonist Milo Burke who, unlike most people, is keenly aware of his own mediocrity. They also enjoyed Lipsyte's well-rounded secondary characters: the embittered war amputee, the indifferent wife, the vaguely dissatisfied entrepreneur. One notable exception came from the Los Angeles Times critic, who found the novel strange and humorless. Overall, however, reviewers hailed The Ask as a worthy, amusing read, and a "witty paean to white-collar loserdom" (New York Times Book Review). Did we mention it was dark? The Cleveland Plain Dealer called it an "exercise in dread." Since we're throwing around words like "amusing," "witty," and "entertaining," we had to warn you.