Pin It
Favorite

'The Ask,' Sam Lipsyte 

A 300-page rant about life’s emptiness, The Ask is clever and funny.

click to enlarge art14998.jpg

Milo Burke — the “hero” of Sam Lipsyte’s third novel, The Ask — is a callous, sorry sack. Charged with propelling the action in this novel, Burke has a tall order: He has to ride atop Lipsyte’s sarcasm and apparent fear of actually being alive.

Burke’s a development officer at some mediocre New York university, and his job is to convince alumni to fork over big cash. As a failed artist, Burke hates his job. His wife kinda hates him. And to start the novel, he gets fired for insulting an important donor’s daughter. (He knew it was wrong, but he couldn’t help himself.)

But — and this is the novel’s central action — he’s in luck. A super-rich “ask” happens to be an old friend of his, and the friend will work with no one else.

What follows — Burke cleaning up after the rich friend’s illegitimate son — has been called a “cynical, spot-on satire of America after the meltdown” and an “unrelenting tour de force of black bile.”

A fable for our times, perhaps, but the novel is such a downer. Work sucks. Aspirations are worthless. Being a dad is a bummer. Marriage doesn’t work. Friendships don’t last.

The Ask wallows in failure and bitterness, and it’s frightening to read. Is this how I should spend my free time? Reading about our horrible world and our broken culture? Why even go on living …?

Because life’s a gas, which gets to the book’s saving grace and mild annoyance. Burke is always ranting and way too clever. Here he is describing flirting: “It had been years since I’d flirted. I felt as though I were snorting cocaine, or rappelling down a cliffside, or cliffsurfing off a cliff of pure cocaine.” And here he is queuing at the post office behind a slow-moving procession of his neighborhood’s immigrants: “Don’t you worry your behavior will reduce me to generalizations about why your lands are historically f---ed?” He’s like some hopped-up jerk at a party whose jokes are funny for, like, 15 minutes — but an hour later? Or 300 pages later?

  • Pin It

Latest in Arts & Culture

  • Variations of Zuill
  • Variations of Zuill

    Badass cellist. Musical missionary. Grammy winner. Zuill Bailey redefines Bach for the 21st century
    • Feb 16, 2017
  • Backstage Story
  • Backstage Story

    Behind the preparation and precaution: Why it practically takes a village to put on a Cirque du Soleil show
    • Feb 16, 2017
  • The Genius of Bach
  • The Genius of Bach

    His lasting influence, and a look at this year's Bach Festival schedule
    • Feb 16, 2017
  • More »

Comments


Comments are closed.

Today | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat
Rick Bartow: Things You Know But Cannot Explain

Rick Bartow: Things You Know But Cannot Explain @ Museum of Art/WSU

Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Continues through March 11

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Nicholas Deshais

  • Rehab Reality
  • Rehab Reality

    Toys are stacked on the front porch of the Isabella House, but the kids are nowhere to be seen. Inside the front door and behind a red, velvety curtain in the imposing 113-year-old house on the edge of Coeur d’Alene Park in Browne’s Addition, their playroom is also abandoned.
    • Jun 3, 2013
  • Studying Spokane
  • Studying Spokane

    One third-year med student relishes his time at UW East
    • Apr 2, 2013
  • Ever Ready
  • Ever Ready

    What happens after you dial 911?
    • Apr 2, 2013
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Partisan Pagans

    The political divide is even splintering Spokane's witches
    • Feb 2, 2017
  • Finding the Words

    The sounds of 8,000 people taking to the streets of Spokane
    • Jan 26, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Blind Faith
  • Blind Faith

    In a vacant lot by the railroad tracks, an unlikely friendship is found
    • Jan 7, 2016
  • Small Towns 2015: Don't Turn Left
  • Small Towns 2015: Don't Turn Left

    In Priest River, more has stayed the same than has changed
    • Aug 5, 2015

© 2017 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation