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Don't ask, don't tell

  • Aug 2, 2011
The Ask--insider jargon for an endowment fund-raising request--is about college endowments like David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest is about tennis academies.  The setting provides a backdrop, but the action, dialogue, and relationships revolve around the strange and strangely-visioned universe of the author's mind.  

Milo Burke works, and not too well, for a Mediocre University's institutional development (more jargon, this time for professional begging and groveling to win the give) department.  When he is laid off, his life spirals downward, until given a second chance for a special ask (from an old college roommate who hit it rich), at which point his life spirals downward faster.

There is an Everyman quality about Milo and the other characters in his life and in Lipsyte's universe, but neither he nor anyone else in the novel is heroic or even more than moderately likable.  Perhaps that is Lipsyte's point, and perhaps its because Milo, the narrator, is a fount of bitterness, neurosis, geekness, anger, and that twitchy urban fear of life that makes every city sidewalk an incipient jungle.

So that's the Ask:  there are a few moments of real humor and deeper self-recognition, and it bubbles along at a quick clip, but it really isn't a life-changer.

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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2010: How can a life so miserable be so funny? Is it because the stakes are so low (Milo Burke, the antihero of Sam Lipsyte's novel,The Ask, is a failure at many things, but most prominently at his job of pulling in major donors for a deadwater arts program at a middling university neither you nor he care about), or because they are so high (among them death, love, and the general squandering of the glories of creation on trivia)? Lipsyte's brilliant bile earned his previous novel,Home Land, one of the most passionate cult followings in recent years, and inThe Askthat verbal invention is often the only thing that can rouse Milo and his peers from their ennui. They bait and badger each other and toss off complex cultural analyses to little effect, all the while haunted by the gap between wit and wisdom. Lipsyte manages to be both sour and tender to his characters, Milo in particular, whose barest shambles toward self-respect come to seem like the first baby steps of an honorable quest.--Tom Nissley
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ISBN-10: 0374298912
ISBN-13: 978-0374298913
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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