Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE ASK by Sam Lipsyte Kirkus Star

THE ASK

By Sam Lipsyte

Pub Date: March 9th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-374-29891-3
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Another savage, hilarious black comedy from Lipsyte (Home Land, 2004, etc.).

Now in his early 40s, Milo Burke has given up his youthful dream of art-world stardom for a sad but steady gig as a development officer at a second-rate university in New York City. But then the spoiled daughter of a fat-cat donor demands a favor, he resists, and she—this young woman doesn’t know much, but she does know the score—points out that he is “actually the bitch of this particular exchange.” Milo’s reply contains “nothing an arrogant, talentless, daddy-damaged waif wants to hear about herself,” and he gets canned. To help make ends meet for his (possibly wayward) wife and young son, he takes odd jobs, including a brief and memorable stint as assistant deck-builder to a man whose cherished big idea is a show that features celebrity chefs cooking last meals for the condemned on Death Row. Then he gets a mysterious reprieve from a major potential donor—an “ask,” in development parlance—who specifically requests that the university detail Milo to court him and his money. But what will it cost to get his old job back? Before long Milo finds himself serving as a queasy mix of factotum, bagman, client state and sounding board to his old college buddy Purdy Stuart, who assigns him the task of delivering hush money to Purdy’s secret illegitimate son, a legless and spectacularly embittered Iraq War veteran. Once again, Lipsyte creates a main character whose lacerating, hyper-eloquent wit is directed both outward at the world—sardonic commentary on parenthood, class privilege, sexuality, the working world, education, ideas of Americanness and much more—and inward; Milo spares himself no degradation, no self-loathing, nothing. As it goes on one can’t help noticing, beneath the fevered playfulness, a deeply earnest moral vision akin to that of Joseph Heller or Stanley Elkin.

The author’s most ambitious work yet—a brilliant and scabrously entertaining riff on contemporary America.