‘The Ask’ by Sam Lipsyte

‘The Ask’ by Sam Lipsyte

Things I learned from “The Ask” by Sam Lipsyte

How to politely call someone an idiot

    “You’re like an idiot savant without the savant part.”

A theory on the inevitability of time

    “Time goes by,” said Purdy.
    “Having no alternative.”

Some helpful motherly advice.

    “It’s when they stop trying to destroy you, my mother once said, that you really should worry.”

A new definition of a ‘Change Agent’

    “A change agent brings in the loose change of the rich folks.”

A great tee shirt slogan

    “Thanks for not sharing”

‘The Ask’ by Sam Lipsyte is a novel in the grand tradition of slob fiction and black humor of such books as ‘The Confederacy of Dunces’ and ‘The Good Soldier Schweik’.  Our hero in this novel, Milo Burke, works for a New York University (affectionately called Mediocre U) raising money.  ‘The Ask’ is the newspeak his group uses for asking someone to contribute money to the University.  ‘The Give’ is when the person who has been asked for a contribution actually donates money to the University.

Early on, Milo Burke loses his job by mouthing off to the daughter of a potential donor after he loses his temper.   I think the author missed a huge opportunity when the narrator says , “What I said to MacKenzie , there is no point in repeating”.  There is a point in repeating what Milo Burke said to this woman. This could have been a memorable humorous scene considering what Lipsyte is capable of.  It could have been the high point of the novel.  Why did Lipsyte just let it slide by?

Thus the novel deals with the contemporary issue of unemployment and the United States economic miseries, and later on it deals with the after-effects of the United States’ continuing wars.  These issues are treated with black humor, and ‘The Ask’ is a quite humorous novel.

Nearly all of the characters in ‘The Ask’ are cynical, coarse, bitter, and sarcastic with our hero Milo Burke being the most cynical, coarse, bitter, and sarcastic of all.  Milo Burke is all of these things except in regard to his four year old son Bernie and sometimes his wife Maura.  Even Bernie is pretty cynical.  The novel could have used a straight man or woman, someone who is not cynical, coarse, bitter, and sarcastic, someone for the rest of the characters to play off of.  As it was it was difficult to keep track of all the characters, because they all sounded pretty much the same.  If I put the book down and picked it up later, it was difficult to tell which character was talking, because they all sounded so similar.  The same was kind of true of the plot also.  One wild and crazy event followed after another.  If there had been somewhat reasonable events that occurred between these wild and crazy events, we’d appreciate the wild and crazy events even more.  As it was, the action seemed rather frenetic.

I’d like to see Sam Lipsyte write a novel with just a few characters, perhaps five or so, each character sharply defined and with his or her own distinctive way of talking.  I would want the main character or narrator to be a straight man or woman so we would see the wild antics of the other characters through that calm main person’s eyes.


5 responses to this post.

  1. I think I need to get hold of that one – it looks rather good. Do you like Chuck Pahlaniuk (probably spelt it wrong) – you may like his novel “Pygmy” if you like this sort of thing


  2. Hi Tom,
    Thanks for the suggestion of Chuck Palahniuk. I’ve been considering reading him lately but so far have not got around to it. I might give ‘Pygmy’ a try.


  3. So, did you like it? I can’t quite tell…it seems you admired much but found it a bit over-the-top? A bit unrelentingly the same?


  4. Hi whisperinggums,
    You pretty much summed it up. It was one of those books I thought could be so much better if the characters were more sharply defined. This book will not go on my list of top humorous novels or my best of 2010, but it wasn’t bad. It probably would get *** out of 5 from me. I suppose it’s not very nice to use Lipsyte’s material like I did and then slam the book a bit.


  5. shoot nice stuff man.


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