A review of

The Ask

by Sam Lipsyte

Central question: When did groveling for money become an acceptable career choice?
Obligatory Plot Summary: Man needs to ask more successful friend for money in order to win back his job and, just maybe, his family; Important book for which this author recently wrote a foreword: Pornografia by Witold Gombrowicz (Grove, 2009); Relevant quotation from that forward: “The manic oscillations of this voice escort us into the wonderful, horrible core of the novel, a whirl of masks, duplicity, flesh and fragmentation”; Some anagrams of protagonist Milo Burke’s name: Or Like Bum, Bulkier Om, Be Our Milk; Representative sentence: “We’re all just flawed people with our flawed systems.”

Sam Lipsyte wants you to shit your pants. By that I mean parts of The Ask are so sphincter-looseningly funny that you will want to invest in some adult undergarments before reading it. As the author of several previous novels, including the Believer Book Award–winning Home Land, Lipsyte has cultivated a well-earned reputation as our preeminent chronicler of the absurd. There isn’t a funnier author working today. But what makes The Ask so incredible is that the delightfully nasty jokes, puns, and malapropisms—and they are delightfully nasty—serve the development of the characters and a plot that isn’t all that riotous. There’s a serious story here and this is a novel of real maturity, albeit one that routinely employs words like “dick-smacked” and “spidercunt.”

Milo Burke is a frustrated former painter who, thanks to a sexual harassment accusation, loses his job in the fundraising office of a New York City school he calls “Mediocre University.” That’s just the start of his troubles. Milo has reason to doubt his wife Maura’s fidelity and his own three-year-old son, Bernie, thinks he’s a “pansy.” He’s desperate for work when his former boss, Vargina, recruits him to land a big “ask” from a particular potential donor. “An ask,” Milo explains, “could be a person, or what we wanted from that person,” but in this case it’s also an old college friend, Purdy, who struck it rich during the Internet boom.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Andrew Ervin

Andrew Ervin’s first book, Extraordinary Renditions: 3 Novellas, will be published in fall 2010 by Coffee House Press.

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