The Ask – Sam Lipsyte

America, said Horace, the office temp, was a run-down and demented pimp. Our republic’s whoremaster days were through. Whither that frost-nerved, diamond-fanged hustler who’d stormed Normandy, dick-smacked the Soviets, turned out such firm emerging market flesh? Now our nation slumped in the corner of the pool hall, some gummy coot with a pint of Mad Dog and soggy yellow eyes, just another mark for the juvenile wolves.

So starts another book from the soon to be huge burn pile.

How did I know it was going to be bad? One of the characters is called Vargina…. And we get a backstory too!

She’d been a crack baby, apparently due to her mother being a crackhead, one of the early ones, the baking soda vanguard. Vargina was a miracle, and that’s maybe the only time I have used the word sincerely. Her mother had named her the word her name resembled. A sympathetic nurse added the “r.”

I knew I was going to hate the book, I just didn’t know how much.. It tries so hard to be funny but the dialogue exchanges are at best Seinfeld-ian and everyone is fast-talking and a bit of an asshole. Horribly clichéd literary American novel: set in a university, failing main character, shrewish wife having an affair, precocious child who has no love for his own father, ruminations on college days, a sense of impotence, concerns about his virility… if you can think of an overused, predictable, done to death staple of the typical well-educated, well-fed, male novelist’s attempt at writing ‘the great American novel’, then so can this author; and he’s put them in this book. All of them.

So funny you might lose an eye“. Really, Vanity Fair reviewer? What does that even mean?

“What’s politics?”
“Well, let me see. It’s–”
“Does Goliath have a foreskin?”
“Not for long. Not when David’s done with him.”
“Who’s David?”
“A foreskin collector.”
“What are you telling him!” said Maura. fucking theocracy.”
“Jesus, language, Milo.”
“Daddy! Juice!”
“Okay, Bern, but first, how about some water?” I filled a cup from the tap. Bernie batted it away, lunged toward the refrigerator.
“Give me pink coffee juice, Daddy!”
“Okay,” I said. “Okay.”

I lost an IQ point on this paragraph alone..

If the shrill bludgeoning of obvious targets that is this book’s stock in trade is considered as genuine wit, then God help us all.  If this is hipster literature, we’re in for a bumpy ride, because this kind of thing, in less sure hands than Lipsyte’s, is utterly intolerable and self-indulgent to the point of nausea.

The best thing I can say is that Lipsyte kept me reading a book full of characters I strongly disliked involved in scenarios that had only a meagre connection to “real life” and spouting dialogue with just enough post-modern hi jinx to distinguish it from particularly cantankerous message board entries.

What it feels like is a writer who’s been jotting down various opinions, ideas and aphorisms over a fair amount of time, and when he found his notebook was full, decided to force them all into a story, whether they wanted to go or not.


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