The Ask A Novel

Sam Lipsyte




Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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Praise for The Ask

“If you’ve heard anything about Sam Lipsyte, you’ve probably heard that he’s funny. Scabrously, deliriously, piss-yourself funny (his characters would no doubt find a dirtier, and funnier, way of putting it), drawing audible snorts even from the kind of people, such as the people in his novels, who are way too cool to laugh out loud . . . Lipsyte’s prose arrows fly with gloriously weird spin, tracing punch-drunk curlicues before hitting their marks—or landing in some weird alternate.”—Jennifer Schuessler, The New York Review of Books

“So let’s read Lipsyte and rejoice; let’s celebrate the laugh-producing Milo Burkes who are all too rarely brought to us by brave and bitter men—let’s celebrate the canny, well-educated yet perpetually failing furtive Internet onanists, the dark, half-crippled, doughnut-gobbling man-apes of the literary world, who cast their lumpen shadows across the rest of us. These are the kind of unlikable, lovable protagonists we miss; these are the self-loathing, mediocre secret geniuses who can set our people free.”—Lydia Millet, The New York Times Book Review
"Lipsyte's masters aren't Messrs. Strunk and White; they're gallows-humored Celine, Hunter S. Thompson at his most gonzo, [and] the great Stanley Elkin. Although The Ask is unquestionably funny, it's by no means essentially comic. Its theme, over all, is loss, often heartbreaking loss . . . Lipsyte's firecracker prose is so much fun to read, one can almost overlook all the heartbreak in his brilliant novel. Almost. In the end, the dazzle simply highlights the darkness and the despair."—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
"A rare and welcome departure from today's contrived, uber-plotted novels written for the big screen . . . You put down The Ask with that sinking feeling of loss that only the best reads can engender . . . Sam Lipsyte is nothing less than an Evelyn Waugh for our time, and he's considerably funnier, too."—Chicago Tribune

“Lipsyte shakes his comic cocktail of sarcasm and bitter impotence to eloquent effect: briefcases on wheels are 'luggage for people not going anywhere,' and a Manhattan salad bar consists of 'go-goo for the regular folk, these lumpy lumpen lunches.' Milo is repulsive, hilarious, and devastatingly self-aware, but it is his country that is Lipsyte’s real subject.”—The New Yorker

“With this novel, Mr. Lipsyte has proven himself to be one of the most unapologetic voices of contemporary literature. He mines the sexual frustration of Philip Roth, combines it with the paranoia of Don DeLillo and fills the space in between with a cast of characters as absurd and enigmatic as anything in a Thomas Pynchon novel . . . The Ask is a hilarious book about failure; a scathing unhappy comedy obsessed with a culture that’s obsessed with obsessions.”—Michael Miller, The New York Observer
It’s not easy to write a really funny book about such anxiety-producing topics as love, death, failure and our currently terrifying economy, but that’s exactly what Sam Lipsyte has accomplished with his terrific new novel, The Ask . . . This novel isn’t afraid to show the darker side of life, but while The Ask can be a bone-chilling read, it somehow still makes you laugh out loud.”—The Observer’s Very Short List
“It’s customary for radically sardonic, corrosively funny writers to put in time as mere cult icons, but enough already: everybody should read Sam Lipsyte.”—TIME
“The riffs on fatherhood, work, and sex in Sam Lipsyte’s unsparingly comic novel The Ask explode like a string of firecrackers—so funny you might lose an eye.”—Vanity Fair
"Mr. Lipsyte has written a surprisingly meaningful book about the freshly minted grown-ups of his own generation (he was born in 1968), raised on dreams and sitcoms, who now find themselves in cubicles, growing chubby, having children, and wondering what life is meant to feel like."—The Economist

“Lipsyte’s brand of absurdity is deeply rooted in the now. The recession, text messaging, reality TVall are up for grabs. What’s particularly effective is Lipsyte’s acerbic yet subtle approach . . . But he’s never simply bitter; one can always sense a yearning in this book, even at its most acidic moments . . . Precision and painstaking craft have granted Lipsyte complete authority in The Ask, his most acidic and empathetic work to date.”Kimberly King Parsons, Time Out New York (five stars)

“If you're the sort of person who underlines amusing or thought-provoking lines in books, you best gird yourself, as Lipsyte is an inexhaustible fount of eloquent prurience, deftly mingling high- and low-mindedness.”Rob Harvilla, Village Voice

“Sardonic, brilliant . . . Lipsyte skewers everything from precious preschools to academia, displaying an effortless grace and style all his own.”—People (three-and-a-half stars)

“An off-kilter and hilarious novel about work, war, sex, class, children—and Benjamin Franklin.”—O, The Oprah Magazine

“[The] gift is Lipsyte’s writing: a chewy, corrosive, and syntactically dazzling prose style that doesn’t so much run across the page as pick it up and throttle it. A-.”—Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

“Acrid, hilarious, and hard to put down.”—The Must List, Entertainment Weekly

“[The Ask] is a biting, bilious and often brilliant book . . . It started, for me, as a comic, bad-boy outing on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. It concludes somewhere much darker and richer than a theme park. ‘Heavens to Betsy,’ I murmured when I finished. ‘What a book.’”—Karen Long, The Plain Dealer
“One of the greatest black-humorists alive, Lipsyte has gone unnoticed for far too long. With his third novel, about the painfully hilarious adventures of a failed painter in a dead-end job, he should finally get the acclaim he deserves.”—Details

“There’s probably not a living American writer who has so comprehensively mined the comic possibilities of that particular anguished, hapless combination of the overeducated and the underachieving as Sam Lipsyte. Against all odds, his heroes refuse to succeed, and they and we are rewarded with the endlessly entertaining spectacle of their nonstop humiliation.”—Jim Shepard, Bookforum

“Another savage, hilarious black comedy from Lipsyte . . . 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.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Lipsyte’s pitch-black comedy takes aim at marriage, work, parenting, abject failure (the author’s signature soapbox) and a host of subjects you haven’t figured out how to feel bad about yet. This latest slice of mucked-up life follows Milo Burke, a washed-up painter living in Astoria, Queens, with his wife and three-year-old son, as he’s jerked in and out of employment at a mediocre university where Milo and his equally jaded cohorts solicit funding from the 'Asks,' or those who financially support the art program. Milo’s latest target is Purdy Stuart, a former classmate turned nouveau aristocrat to whom Milo quickly becomes indentured. Purdy, it turns out, needs Milo to deliver payments to Purdy’s illegitimate son, a veteran of the Iraq War whose titanium legs are fodder for a disgruntlement that makes the chip on Milo’s shoulder a mere speck of dust by comparison. Submission is the order of the day, but where Home Land had a working-class trajectory, this takes its tone of lucid lament to the devastated white-collar sector; in its merciless assault on the duel between privilege and expectation, it arrives at a rare articulation of empire in decline.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Lipsyte’s third novel, a darkly humorous story of sons and fathers, is both his most realistic and convulsively hilarious to date . . . Yet for all his wit, Lipsyte’s narrator is not above it all but deeply, messily down in it: the casual miracles of parenthood, the deepening thrum of mortality, the grim perdurance of a shaky marriage, ‘warm with that feeling of wanting a feeling that maybe had already fled.’ Seriously funny, Lipsyte sits alongside such illustrious Daves as Gates, Eggers, and Foster Wallace on the self-conscious shelf, but with a heartfelt brilliance all his own."—David Wright, Booklist (starred review)

In the Press

Author Sam Lipsyte on His New Novel, ?The Ask’ -- New York Magazine
With his new novel, ?The Ask,’ Sam Lipsyte finds the funny in failure.
Work in Progress » Blog Archive » Sam Lipsyte & Eric Chinski
Authors and Editors in Conversation Eric Chinski: In The Fun Parts you're returning to short stories after publishing a novel, The Ask....

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Sam Lipsyte was born in 1968. He is the author of the story collection Venus Drive (named one of the top twenty-five books of its year by the Voice Literary Supplement) and the novels The Subject Steve and Home Land, which was a New York Times Notable Book and received the first annual Believer Book Award. He is also the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship. He lives in New York City and teaches at Columbia University.
Read the full excerpt



  • Sam Lipsyte at the FSG Reading Series

    Novelist Sam Lipsyte reads from The Ask at the Russian Samovar as a part of the FSG Reading Series.

  • In Studio: Sam Lipsyte reads The Ask

    The Ask is a burst of genius by a young American master who has already demonstrated that the truly provocative and important fictions are often the funniest ones.

  • The Ask by Sam Lipsyte--Audiobook Excerpt

    Listen to this audiobook excerpt and hear author Sam Lipsyte read from his novel The Ask. Milo Burke—husband, father, development officer at a third-tier university—has just joined the burgeoning class of the newly unemployed. Grasping after odd jobs to support his wife and child, Milo is relieved to get another chance from his former boss. All he has to do is reel in a potential donor who, mysteriously, has requested Milo's involvement.

  • Lipsyte on the Read Roll Show

    Lipsyte’s first novel. The author losing his mother, and making fiction. (Backyard flowers, birds.)

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  • Sam Lipsyte

  • Sam Lipsyte was born in 1968. He is the author of the story collection Venus Drive (named one of the top twenty-five books of its year by the Voice Literary Supplement) and three novels: The Ask, The Subject Steve and Home Land, which was a New York Times Notable Book and received the first annual Believer Book Award. He lives in New York.
  • Sam Lipsyte © Robert Reynolds
    Sam Lipsyte