I hadn’t heard anything about this book when I picked it up. Then I accepted it into my life and it started appearing everywhere, getting the thumbs up from all sorts of cool people. Having only had time to briefly peruse the blurb, I had no idea why.
By page 5 it was clear – this book is a winner. An absolute, knee-slappingly hilarious, day-changing winner.
Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask features loser protagonist Milo Burke. A failed painter, Milo gets fired from his fundraising job at the arts department of a university and his life starts going to shit. Until Purdy shows up. An ex-schoolmate of Milo’s, Purdy forces the university to get Milo back on board as one of the conditions of Purdy making a sizeable donation to the university. Milo steps back into his old job, but this time it also involves being some kind of horrible-errand-pimp for Purdy.
Sam Lipsyte has written a novel that is incredibly well-balanced. The story is understated, and the language subtle. The story unfolds so that it begins like we’ve just wandered into Milo’s life, and it ends like we just wander out. Nothing grandiose, but by no means a boring story or lack of plot either.
Lipsyte has an amazing ear for dialogue, with his characters saying absolutely inane things that all of us know we’ve said from time to time. All characters in this novel also seem incredibly adept at slinging insults and horribleness at one another, one of my favourites being when Purdy shoves a big wad of cash at Milo:
“…here’s our severance to add to your other severance. Mix all that severance together. It’s like a jambalaya of fucking severance. It’s tasty and you can stuff your fat treacherous face with it.”
Ah! Would that I could be so coherently hateful!
Milo’s son Bernie brings an incredible amount of poignancy to the novel, however he also has some of the best comedic moments:
” ‘Do superheroes have foreskins? Like my guy?’
He held up his headless hero.
‘Yes. No. I don’t know. Probably.’
‘Do foreskins help you fly?’ ”
Bernie’s full of moments like this, but in typical not-quite-four year old fashion, he peppers his speeches and musings with wisdom that he doesn’t even know is there, always ready to add a nice commentary on Daddy’s action.
While The Ask is a freaking hilarious read, don’t let that fool you. There’s a truly decent story under all the knee-slapping; a nice sort of questioning of values and what it means to grow up true to yourself.
I’m glad to have spent time between the covers of this one in the last week or so; I was always glad to be there, I never wondered when the book would finish. I’ll be eagerly looking out for whatever Sam Lipsyte brings forth into the world next.