Pages: The Ask

Cassidy Fein and Cassidy Fein

THE ASK by Sam Lipsyte

After college, one assumes, we all hope to do great things. We study hard and work even harder so that we can one day run the company of our choice, cure that once-incurable medical malady or create the next great work of cultural and intellectual brilliance.

Lipsyte’s stories are not about those people. In The Ask, we’re lucky enough to follow around Milo Burke, an intrepid loser intent on saving his mind-numbing job of asking for donations to his mediocre higher-education institution (hence the title). Having seemingly abandoned all hope, he watches as his wife openly cheats on him with a man of questionable sexuality while attempting to raise their only child and balance the Less Than Zero-esque lives of the rich he caters to for one last “ask.”

Lipsyte’s prose, as always, is a joy to conquer from one page to the next — though it tends to chew up and spit out any attempts at nailing down the fairly logical plotline one might expect from a typical fiction novel. That said, his analysis of the trials and tribulations of typical parenthood are both darkly humorous and mildly terrifying: Who really has nailed down the perfect parenting method? And how do we deal with the sometimes truly bizarre and wildly inappropriate things children do or say?

More importantly, Lipsyte deals with the expectations of Milo’s sex, gender and economic responsibilities that seem to appear out of thin air and creep up on him when least expected. Milo’s journey in the end is not dissimilar to that of the beloved Dude from the Coen brother’s classic The Big Lebowski, both reveling and reeling in his loserdom. Milo never quite learns all the “right” answers to resolving his issues of a grand scale, but is finally able to accept that the beauty of life is this permanent grey area.

Relax, stop overachieving and hang out with these other lovable losers:

THE INGENIOUS GENTLEMAN DON QUIXOTE OF LA MANCHA by Miguel de Cervantes

If you haven’t already, please do yourself the favor of reading about the original goof as he takes on impossible quests thanks to the delusions of drowning in books of chivalry. An even darker look at how one can lose sight of reality and the expectations and boundaries of society within our fictionalized best efforts to escape it.

FARGO ROCK CITY by Chuck Klosterman

While Klostermanhimself is certainly no slouch when it comes to his literary successes, his exploration of his passion at an early age for heavy metal and glam rock in the unlikely town of Fargo follows a similar tone. A bitingly humorous look at a much-maligned and overlooked music genre, written for anyone at all levels of heavy metal rock consumption.

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