Friday, April 23, 2010

Sam Lipsyte -- The Ask

Occasionally I get the feeling that the book I have requested, because of its glowing reviews, is not the book I am reading. It's not that I got the wrong item: nothing as easy as that! My confusion is due to the fact that other people, people who should know better, like critics for major papers or awards committees, maintain that this is a humorous and important, book. And I, struggling through to the end, find it neither.

This happened to me this week with The Ask, by Sam Lipsyte. This novel is the tale of Milo, a nobody, a would-be artist soldiering away on a college campus (Mediocre U, he calls it) in the Development Department. That is, he looks for people to give money for new buildings or endowed professorships or the like. Due to a series of unfortunate events, mostly having to do with his lack of tact, he is thrown out until an old college friend, Purdy, arranges to have him work on a donation which Purdy may make to the college.

The story then veers off into the relationship between Purdy and his son, born of an affair and not recognized until after the boy has returned from Iraq as a double amputee.

Do you notice anything humorous so far? Me neither.

It was only my determination not to let the book get the better of me that made me read through to the end, not caring whether Milo will save his marriage, or rescue his too-adorable and precocious three-year-old from the absent-minded non-care of the babysitter, or even get a permanent job.

The satirical targets are too broad (e.g., yuppified experimental pre-schools, over-age hippies). I can't recall one attractive character, and I think that even if all else fails, at least one character in which one can believe is necessary for an emotional connection to a novel.


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