Bennett Gavrish's Reviews > The Ask

The Ask by Sam Lipsyte
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Mar 15, 12

Read from March 02 to 09, 2012

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 authorial voice that has more bite and punch than anything else you'll find in contemporary fiction.

Then you, the reader, gets to know Milo Burke. And you discover quite quickly that he is a dick. But it doesn't stop there. His wife is a dick. His son's babysitter is a dick. His boss is a dick. His coworkers are all dicks. His rich friend from college is a dick. And that rich friend's illegitimate son, who lost his legs fighting in Iraq, even manages to be a dick.

Despite the total lack of likable characters, I was still holding out some hope for The Ask. Lipstye appeared to be on the verge of saying something profound about post-9/11 American society. Then I arrived at the quote that appears at the bottom of this post (feel free to go read it right now), and I lost what little respect I had left for the novel.

If Lipstye wants to use literature as an experiment, that is his right. But I expect writers to have a little more respect for their readers than to come out and flatly admit that they are constructing a poor narrative on purpose. The Ask is not meta. It is nothing more than a poor excuse for a novel, and the quote below is right – there's no reason for it to exist.


Noteworthy Quote:
“I’m not very likable, am I?”
“You’re likable enough,” said Vargina.
“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.”
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