Sam Lipsyte - The Ask (4 stars)

Sam Lipsyte - The Ask

(Old Street)

Satire has become a dirty word in Britain, devalued through excessive application to intelligent but superficial, self-satisfied observations of our uncertain times. In the US though, where The Daily Show and The Onion set the standard, Sam Lipsyte’s fourth novel reiterates that a dark heart still beats in the belly of the 9/11-wounded beast. Less bleak than Joseph Heller’s jaundiced Something Happened, nevertheless The Ask evokes a comparable panorama of misery, ennui and failure, even if, line-for-line, it’s much funnier.

Succumbing pitifully to middle-age, unsuccessful artist Milo views his aggressive toddler with a mixture of pride and fear, remaining more-or-less ambivalent about his wife’s potential infidelity. Fired from his job soliciting money for a university, he’s offered one last chance at an ‘ask’ of his wealthy, enigmatic college friend Purdy, seeking a favour himself. Tautly, hilariously written, Lipsyte endows his characters with a devastating combination of complete self-awareness and impotence.

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