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The Ask

3.28  ·  Rating Details ·  5,734 Ratings  ·  891 Reviews
A searing, beautiful, and deeply comic novel by a young American master

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 form
ebook, 304 pages
Published April 1st 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2010)
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Community Reviews

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Paul Bryant
Nov 23, 2012 Paul Bryant rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
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
the curious incident of the dog in the night-time

You might p
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
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
Jan 09, 2010 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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.

Justin Evans
Apr 11, 2011 Justin Evans rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
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
Jun 24, 2011 Bradley rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: from-library
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
It’s a war out there. And this book is about war crimes. The kind that happen when failed painters take jobs as development agents for the arts departments of mediocre universities, sucking up to successful wealth-creators to support the drug habits of university arts brats who produce drek. But the tap of money from wealthy donors was running dry, and our failed painter Milo Burke was now a failed development agent.

Milo’s last big “ask” was to Mr. Ramadathan who had mortgaged his electronics s
Jan 04, 2010 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Apr 09, 2010 christa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 27, 2011 V. rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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..
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Dec 25, 2012 Jenny (Reading Envy) rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read2012
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
Jan 17, 2010 Kevin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 24, 2014 Thomas rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.


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

"A Sabrett man," said Vargina.


"Breathe. You're okay, but
May 29, 2010 Rachel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Jul 21, 2010 Judith rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 12, 2011 Lauren rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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?

Apr 30, 2010 Julie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ryan Chapman
Feb 03, 2010 Ryan Chapman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I just recommend watching the author read. It perfectly captures how fucking absurd and hilarious this book is.
Todd N
May 10, 2010 Todd N rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
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
Bennett Gavrish
Mar 15, 2012 Bennett Gavrish rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Grade: F

L/C Ratio: 65/35
(This means I estimate the author devoted 65% of his effort to creating a literary work of art and 35% of his effort to creating a commercial bestseller.)

Thematic Breakdown:
30% - Collapse of American life
20% - Failing relationships
15% - Parenthood
15% - Comedy
10% - Office politics
10% - Visual arts

I can't remember ever being this frustrated with a novel. The opening chapters of The Ask had me laughing obnoxiously, as Lipstye introduces the character of Milo Burke with an a
Vincent Scarpa
Oct 06, 2015 Vincent Scarpa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hysterically funny—though Lipsyte is not a master at "picking his spots," which at some point I almost came to admire—and hyper-intelligent indictment of, well, everything Lipsyte wants to indict. Occasionally grating that every character comes off as funny as Fran Lebowitz and everyone speaks in perfect paragraphs, but mostly forgivable when considering just how good of a sentence-maker Lipsyte is. The end sort of falls apart, in that it tries to ascribe more meaning and consequence to a certai ...more
Ian Belknap
May 16, 2015 Ian Belknap rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You know that thing about the frog and the pot of boiling water - that if you put the frof in the pot and heat it slowly, it doesn't notice what's happening and gets boiled alive (vs. frog that will hop out when dropped into already boiling water)?

I feel like the satirist - the real satirist, the deep satirist - is that contrary frog that NOTICES the gradual rise in temperature, and CHOOSES still to stay in the pot. That's how Lipsyte strikes me, here - he is willing to sacrifice his own froggy
May 20, 2010 Llopin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010

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
Po Po
Jun 20, 2014 Po Po rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brash n brainy, an appealing combination.

A contemporary allegory of the absurdity of modern ideals and expectations.

Reminiscent of Bukowski- this is a grim story of ruination in every possible aspect of life: the marriage, the career, the friendships, even Milo's relationship with his mother is strained. Most importantly, is Milo's struggle with his identity as everything he valued in himself disappears.

Geoff Watson
Jun 07, 2010 Geoff Watson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 12, 2011 Nicky rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The writing was self-consciously hip. Every word was like a giant smirk. We get it. You think you're clever.
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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...

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“We are going to eat ice cream and we are going to eat shit. The trick is to use different spoons.” 22 likes
“Judging by your face, the what-the-fuck nodes in your cerebral cortex must be a real light show.” 8 likes
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