I was a HUGE fan of Sam Lipsyte’s book Home Land. It was a hilarious observation of the dynamics of high school relationships during and beyond high school, with a funny storyline woven in. And even though not much of that book was reminiscent of my high school, it didn’t matter because the book was so flat-out funny. So when I saw that his latest book The Ask was out, I made a beeline to the bookstore. I even quit reading the book I was then reading so that I could start on The Ask immediately. Not a great idea.
The Ask tells the story of Milo Burke, a development officer at a lower-tier college in Manhattan, as he goes through some bizarre times. Unfortunately, in this instance ”bizarre” does not equal ”funny” or “endearing”. Milo loses his job for lashing out at a student whose father happens to be a bigshot, but is specifically called back because a potential donor requests to work with him. This potential donor, Purdy, was a college acquaintance of Milo’s, who wants to work with Milo because he thinks Milo can provide a quid pro quo. Unfortunately, though, as I read along waiting to get pulled in, it dawned on me that Milo is not likeable, and neither are his co-workers, his old college cronies, or Purdy’s illegitimate son. I suppose with the exception of Vargina, Milo’s boss, who was a crack baby blessed with a sympathetic nurse who added an “r” to her name on her birth certificate.
I hate to say it, but I was utterly disappointed in this book. The idea was there — Milo going through troubles in his career and in his marriage, and some people from his past coming out of the blue to perhaps provide a shot at redemption — but none of the potential of the idea materialized. Maybe Lipsyte’s earlier book set the bar a bit high, but this one came in so far under that bar that I was left puzzled at how I could have been so excited to read it. Enter at your own risk.