Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Ask

I've just read The Ask, by Sam Lipsyte. (You can read the NY Times review here. Full disclosure: I know Sam Lipsyte.)

The novel is over the top, spot on, deeply funny. There were some scenes that felt like too much and others that felt so real it was like I was breathing the same air as Milo Burke, the book's protagonist. Burke is around forty and at the start of The Ask he's working as a development officer at a third-tier university in New York City. He has a son in the mid-threes and a wife with whom he "cuddled in the way of a couple about to not have sex." He's got a mom in New Jersey, a dead father, and a web of frayed connections to himself and the people who occupy different pockets of his life. All told, Milo Burke is a rich character and through him Lipsyte explores the way we in this place (New York, which happens to be in America) and time (now) conflate the moral obligation embedded in our relationships with something like (or actually) a quid pro quo. Whether the relationship is to our child, our friends, our soldiers, or our mentally ill neighbors, the book looks hard at what we could do, what we should do, what we want to do, what we can't help doing, and what we buy our way out of doing because we can.

Lipsyte does all this using language that's almost ecstatic. He's never met a ten dollar word he can't put to good use in a sentence about a two dollar bargain passing itself off as a fifty dollar steal; he'd really rather not use "and"; and he loves to end a sentence with a comma and a gerund. But the ten dollar words feel like they were originally assembled to be exactly where Lipsyte puts them, the text gallops along if you let it, and the way he ends a sentence, it can make you laugh out loud or break your heart. His language asks you to suspend disbelief and if you feel like it, I'd recommend doing it. It's worth spending some time with Milo Burke. He's not perfect, but he's got what to say.


marjorie said...

i just added it to my list -- thanks for the tip! it got great review, i see.

Robin Aronson said...

i hope you like it!