The Ask
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The Ask

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3.28 of 5 stars 3.28  ·  rating details  ·  4,488 ratings  ·  790 reviews
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, myste...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published April 1st 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2010)
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Paul
This is not a bad book, Sam Lipsyte has a cute turn of phrase, but it's just not funny at all and makes you feel bad when you're actually reading it so that you feel good when you stop. Ugh. I checked up my list of all time favourite novels to answer the question - well, maybe you just don't like comic novels. Here are the ones on my list with some comic elements:

the fountain overflows
the mezzanine
catch 22
eighty-sixed
trainspotting
the curious incident of the dog in the night-time
lolita


You might p...more
Joel
When you try to be cute by writing a book with a detestable protagonist and include dialogue exchanges like this:

"I'm not very likable, am I?"
"You're likable enough."
"No, I mean, if I were the protagonist of a book or a movie, it would be hard to like me, to identify with me, right?"
"I would never read a book like that, Milo. I can't think of anyone who would. There's no reason for it."


...then you probably should make sure the reader isn't going to agree with you. And though this is a well-writt...more
MJ Nicholls
Lipsyte’s comedy is of the frenetic sledgehammer variety (nothing wrong with that) and his narrator poisonously witty. The comedy is sadly all-too-sitcommy in its overexuberance, despite attempts to establish its own Elkinesque style, and relies overly on hyper-zingy dialogue where every character is a fast-talking asshole, a technique that overwhelms and removes the reader from the simulated reality of this world. In comparison to a similar novel, the superhumanly brilliant Laura Warholic (publ...more
Greg
The Ask is a weird novel to find yourself really enjoying--it's like getting punched in the face and laughing about it. It's hilarious and dead serious at the same time; on one page you laugh out loud, only to be soberly put in your place on the next by the pitiless resentment and biting cynicism that plagues Milo, Lipsyte's hapless protagonist, who gets fired from his job at the development office of a Manhattan university after mouthing off to an overly entitled student. Then there's all the o...more
David
I was underwhelmed. It amazes me that this book has been universally acclaimed as hilarious. "So funny you might lose an eye". Really, Vanity Fair reviewer? What does that even mean?

If the shrill bludgeoning of obvious targets that is this book's stock in trade is considered as genuine wit, then God help us all.
Personally, if there were an immediate moratorium on the publication of whining, self-pitying tirades by narcissistic, obnoxious, self-hating losers, I would not be particularly upset.

T...more
Justin Evans
Has anyone else noticed that there is a new grammatical person? We've always had first ("I fell") and second ("You fell") and third ("She fell.") But now we have the first middle-aged white middle-class reasonably well educated underemployed male person, "I fell into a [sea of references], and made a joke about it, but mainly focused on my self-pity and my loathing for my self-pity." Ladies and Gentleman, this is the literary form embodied in The Ask. It could be much worse; it could be 'The Fin...more
Sebastian
Did not love it and at times didn't like it. It's satire, sure, but everything is strained with ironic distance and studied disdain, including the narrator's regard for himself. Maybe this generational bitching is just a couple years outside of my sweet spot, but I found myself aching for something post-ironic or with some faint sense of authenticity ("Is that like the faint smell of death lurking around KFC's Double Down?" an early piece of rejected draft dialogue from The Ask might counter). I...more
Bradley
Sam Lipsyte is a great prose stylist, but this book was about 100 pages too long. It only had enough plot for a short story, but was stretched into a novel. His writing style made about 200 pages highly readable and enjoyable, particularly due to the author's humor. But because of the book's minimal plot, an extra 100 was pushing it. It's a prime example of the stereotypes that genre fiction writers and readers have about literary fiction: a focus on style rather than plot and character developm...more
christa
I was Sam Lipsyte's bitch for the first 60 pages of his novel "The Ask." I mean, he really had me in the zone. I was ready to sell my stuff, buy a psychedelic bus, and follow him on a book tour until the restraining order caught up with me somewhere near Missoula.

Then I became exhausted. Sam Lipsyte is so freaking hilarious, too freaking hilarious, that I actually started to drown as I slogged through his super clever sentences and whack, sarcastic dialogue. I couldn't follow the thin plot (rea...more
Laura
Sam Lipsyte, author of the cult favorite Home Land, is back in fine form with his third novel. In The Ask, Milo Burke is a not-very-lovable loser (think Paul Giamatti playing him in the movie, and you'll get the idea), who's approaching middle age with nothing much to show for it but a bachelor's degree, a failed career as an artist, and a crummy job as a development officer at Mediocre University in New York City. Unfortunately for Milo, he's never quite perfected the art of The Ask -- the deli...more
Kevin
Sam does it again. This novel takes an unassuming (and seemingly unfunny) premise about a dude who wrangles large financial donations for a school and turns it into an outright laugh riot. Not only is this just as funny as the amazing Home Land but it also showcases Lipsyte's ramped-up, amped-up ability to deliver killer sentence after killer sentence. This might turn out to be my fave of 2010. Yeah--I'm already saying it.
Ellie
The Ask by Sam Lipsyte is a book that demands to be read twice. So I probably shouldn't review it after reading it only once. I really feel that in order to feel like I read the book at all, I should read it again.

Nevertheless, the general sense of it is clear. Milo Burke is a fund-raiser (one who gets "the ask"-money, favors, etc. from potential donors) who loses it with a donor and so loses his job. He drifts free-fall in an ironical haze alongside his 4 year old son Bernie and adulterous wife...more
Thomas
I'll let this book speak for itself (pp. 228-9):

I came to with Vargina leaning over me, her breasts brushing up against my chest.

"I'm sorry I undress you with my eyes," I said.

"It's okay, Milo. Just breathe."

"I do a lot worse with my eyes. Am I the only one?"

"Of course not, Milo. You just lack subtlety. But breathe now."

"Subtlety," I said.

"Breathe."

"I never wanted to hurt anyone. I just wanted to slide my dick between your breasts."

"A Sabrett man," said Vargina.

"What?"

"Breathe. You're okay, but...more
John Arfwedson
Dark, darker, darkest. The attitude/voice/style here are blacker than the blackest coal mine but not only have all the canaries died...they never existed.
Milo Burke, whose job is to get rich people to donate money to a third rate New York university, is fired and then temporarily "rehired" because of his long-ago college friendship with a megawealthy guy who's thinking of giving. It's "the ask" versus "the give", but of course never that simple.
Lipsyte is witheringly whipsmart and his lash cut...more
V.
They say an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters and an infinite amount of time will eventually reproduce the complete works of Shakespeare. In the case of this book I estimate you’d need one monkey and about six weeks.

Horribly clichéd literary American novel: set in a university, failing main character, shrewish wife having an affair, precocious child who has no love for his own father, ruminations on college days, a sense of impotence, concerns about his virility.....more
Judith
I read this book because one of my heroes (Michael J. Fox) praised it, and then I read a positive book review in the NYT. At first I found it laugh-out-loud funny, but after I got used to the author's style, I felt like I was stuck at a cocktail party with a drunken bore. The narrator sort of reminded me of Dennis Miller because so much of the book's humor was based on "rants" and that is funny for awhile, but it does get old.

The story is based on the premise of a guy employed at a small college...more
Julie
This book was so self-conscious and over-trying to be clever it was hard to care about the characters. It just felt hipper than thou. Every internal character thought was a reference and/or rant. There was no insight. There were a few sparks of human feeling within interactions between the main character and his son, but these were few & far between. Would not recommend reading this unless you want to be clobbered over the head by the author's ironic-bitter-weary main characters that have li...more
Rachel
This book reminded me of that Dorothy Parker quote, (I'm paraphrasing here): "There is a helluva lot of difference between wit and wise-cracking; wit has some truth to it but wise-cracking is just calisthenics with words." I felt that way about this book. Mr. Lipsyte is a clever writer, but I felt like he was more concerned with me knowing that than telling a story. The main character is so consumed with self loathing that it's difficult to muster any sort of sympathy or understanding for how he...more
Ryan Chapman
I just recommend watching the author read. It perfectly captures how fucking absurd and hilarious this book is.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Usually after I check out a pile of books from the library, I read the first chapter of each one to try to figure out where to start. After I read the first chapter of The Ask, I was hooked and didn't want to put it down! There were several moments in the beginning where I laughed like an idiot.

Here are a few:

"I'd ask for American flags, stick them on upside down in protest against our nation's foreign and domestic policies."
This is probably only funny because I do the exact same thing, and ha...more
Todd Nemet
This book proves that my ability to absorb negativity is still as great as ever. I bought it on the strength of its mention in a NYTimes article about Gen X reaching mid-life crisis age.

This was also an experiment in reading using the iBooks app on my iPad. My observations:
- The iPad is just heavy enough that it's hard to read comfortably lying down.
- I felt a tingling in my left arm after holding the iPad for a while. I should exercise more.
- Adjusting the screen brightness is very handy
- A...more
Lauren
I picked up The Ask because a) it is a NYT bestseller, b) I enjoyed Lipsyte's last book Home Land, and c) because it has a very long and compelling blurb list on the back of the book. I would now like to ask said blurb authors the following questions:



1) Do you typically enjoy books with completely unlikeable protagonists?



2) Do you find repeated, somewhat degrading sexual fantasies about co-workers/friends/strangers interesting?



3) Did you understand the point of this book?



4) Are you depressed?



To...more
Llopin
*shrug*

Disappointing. Unfunny. Self-indulgent.

Archetypal middle age crisis story ["what does it all mean?" phase:] flourished with a tedious plot, irritating characters and an annoyingly clever attitude. For some reason I didn't find this as decadent as some say, then of course I couldn't possibly take it much seriously. And not as humorous as it is advertised: didn't laugh once. This is not satire. Look elsewhere.

A mildly satisfying collection of dialogues, which feature some interesting views...more
Geoff Watson
truly one of the funniest voices i've ever read. only issue was that the plot meandered and the ending felt tacked on, thin, and a little random. it's as if he outlined this book on the back of a cocktail napkin.
Nicky
The writing was self-consciously hip. Every word was like a giant smirk. We get it. You think you're clever.
David Jordan
Tuning in to Lipsyte’s tightly wound prose and sometimes over-the-top imagery took a bit of effort, but eventually I enjoyed this darkly comic novel about a failed artist reduced to fund-raising for a crumby university who is offered a last-ditch chance to save his job by extracting big bucks from an old college acquaintance. Narrator/hero Milo Burke is a hapless soul, but he speaks in a self-deprecating, wryly funny voice that speeds the reader through his misadventures in work, love, parenting...more
Gladia
The Ask highly deteriorated my already weak self-confidence. As I was reading the novel I kept wondering: what is wrong with me? WHAT is WRONG with me??

What did I miss? The Ask is supposed to be the satirical novel of the year. Maybe my expectations were just too high, and not without reason. Geoff Dyer on The Guardian wrote: ‘The Ask is hysterically funny, even excluding the passages where you're too busy mentally applauding and calculating the many ways in which it's funny to laugh.’ Lydia Mil...more
Zeo
Enjoyable, but too long for what it was. Lipsyte reminds me of hearing thirty seconds of some techno in a movie or commercial or something and thinking, wow, that's interesting, but upon getting hold of the whole piece realizing that it's essentially the same thing over and over and over and then I never need to hear it again. His writing is fine for a short story, but longer than that and all his formulas for funny become transparent and I found that it was basically the same few formulas over...more
Peter
Since Sam Lipsyte is astoundingly perverse, laugh-out-loud funny, and also considered "literary," I pretty much have to like him. Which means I pretty much have to like this book. I'll admit right off, I liked Homeland better; the conceit of the yearbook-update-as-novel was just so clever. But The Ask is pretty good in its own right. The satire is scathing and just feels so true. Everything from Romantic Comedies to Liberal Preschools to the Pregnancy Spas of the super-rich get the treatment, an...more
Jan
Jul 07, 2010 Jan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: anyone who wants to laugh
Savagely funny. It's a two word phrase that critics keep in the same cupboard where a chef might keep his pepper grinder and thyme hopper, but somehow the review often gets over-seasoned with them. Though I've seen fit to think those words when reading something by either Sedaris or maybe a Handler, they hardly apply to longer fiction, where the demands of keeping together a longer narrative and the sheer number of pages keep an author from maintaining a tone that is truly and cohesively funny,...more
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Sam Lipsyte was born in 1968. He is the author of the story collection Venus Drive (named one of the top twenty-five book of its year by the Village Voice Supplement) and the novels The Subject of Steve and Home Land, winner of the Believer Book Award. Lipsyte teaches at Columbia Universitys School of The Arts and is a 2008 Guggenheim Fellow. He lives in Manhattan.
More about Sam Lipsyte...
Home Land The Fun Parts Venus Drive The Subject Steve The Dungeon Master

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