Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Ask
Sam Lipsyte

rating: 3 out of 10 "books"

I recently read this story as part of a book club a few of my friends and I started and from the book summary the story sounded interesting enough. The Ask by Sam Lipsyte is the story of Milo, an awkward loserish type, who works for a mediocre liberal arts college after his own dreams of being an artist fail. He spends his time begging wealthy alumni for money to fund the university's ever expanding art department projects. The Ask as the title refers to, is essentially whatever the college is looking to acquire from a particular alumni as opposed to what the alumni decides to Give. The rising crisis occurs when Milo, who has been fired from the university, is rehired on the condition that he help acquire a big Ask from an old collge roommate who specificially requests Milo's help. Bizzareness ensues as Milo tries to balance work, his crumbling marriage, and his ever curious three year old son as well as everything and anything in between.

I've often wondered what it must be like to work for an alumni organization calling one alumni after another in an attempt to sqeeze whatever bits of charitable money out of them as possible. To me, it seems like a slight variation to telemarketing, and although the story aims at dark humor, sarcasm, and bitter hilarity, the ridiculousness of everyday circumstances Milo finds himself in are more lewd than entertaining. I had a hard time trying to decide if some of the things Lipsyte writes in this novel are for surface level shock value, or if on some underlying level of his psyche Lipsyte is a misogynist.

Overall, there's a moment in this book that pretty much sums up The Ask as a whole. Milo, asks, "if I were the protagonist of a book or movie, it would be hard to like me, to identify with me right?" To which his co-worker, Vargina, (yes you read that name right) replies, "I would never read a book like that, Milo. I can't think of anyone who would. There's no reason for it." Almost as if Lipstye is using this as a disclaimer for any negative critiques, "The Ask" is nothing more than the boring story of a loser told in a narrative whether meaning to or not, reads like a cross between Salinger and Vonnegut. But not in a good way. Anti-hero or not, I did not enjoy this story.

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