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The Ask

3.29  ·  Rating details ·  6,516 ratings  ·  960 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
Hardcover, 296 pages
Published March 2nd 2010 by Farrar Straus Giroux
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Average rating 3.29  · 
Rating details
 ·  6,516 ratings  ·  960 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Mar 08, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Nov 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 16, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Jun 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jan 21, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Aug 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Heartbreakingly funny.
Apr 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Aug 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Jul 30, 2011 rated it did not like it
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..
John Arfwedson
Nov 08, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Jan 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 rated it liked it
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
May 10, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
Apr 09, 2011 rated it it was ok
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?

Aug 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Not for everyone but a great read. Lipsyte's writing is a joy to read; rich and satisfying, fresh and funny. The plot is good, too, but the ending fell flat for me. Maybe the ending was realistic but in a highly unrealistic book it seemed disappointing. Milo is a sad kind of everyman/shlub who is presented with an opportunity for greatness but of course there is a catch. The genius of this book is the language and phrasing--you'll enjoy it tremendously if you can avoid caring about anyone in the ...more
Ian Belknap
Jan 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 16, 2010 rated it did not like it
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 little ...more
Erica Clou
The beginning was really funny (and sad) but after about two thirds through I got tired of the characters not developing and their situation devolving. Lipsyte is very intelligent and witty, and kudos to you if you get all his jokes. I’m sure so many of his jokes went right over my head, but oh boy will you feel full of yourself when you get some of them. Ha! Ultimately, I thought Don, a minor character, was the most interesting, though I didn’t like the direction his story took. The plot is mos ...more
Mar 30, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: american-fiction
Clever, sometimes too clever, in love with hating himself (author and narrator), and soooo self-absorbed. A product of his generation, I suppose, but I find it hard to care. Lipsyte's dialogues are fantastic, but then comes the inner dialogue that leaves a bile-y taste in my mouth. He's a shit, I'm a shit, we're all destroying each other. We live miserably ever after. Eh. ...more
Ryan Chapman
Feb 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I just recommend watching the author read. It perfectly captures how fucking absurd and hilarious this book is. ...more
Todd N
May 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 09, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012books
I would classify this book more as a "howl" than a novel; it's all riff and rant over plot and character. The writing is terribly funny, and it averages about ten wonderful, acerbic observations per page. But the whole thing barely hangs together -- all the riffing and ranting starts to feel one-note after awhile, and then awhile after THAT it just becomes draining.

It's entirely possible that somewhere along the last few years of my life I've stopped enjoying these hilarious, scabrous novels. Al
Bennett Gavrish
Mar 02, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
May 15, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
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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.

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