Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask is a darkly funny examination of parenthood, disenchantment and the emptiness of corporate profession in contemporary America. A world of cell-phones, cynicism, and pill-popping becomes the landscape of modern child-rearing in Lipsyte’s 2010 novel.
Milo Burke, married and nearing the age of forty, works in the development office of a mediocre university in New York City. His job is to secure donors and donations for the university's art department. He is not good at his job. A father of a four-year-old son, Milo is a failed artist, mired in daydreams and bitterness and well aware of the flaws in his personality.
The book’s title is derived from the parlance of Milo’s development work which, like the novel, is riddled with specialized, absurd, and politically shaped language. An “ask” is a potential donor or a potential, targeted donation. Milo Burke’s job is to turn the “ask” into a “give,” something he does extremely poorly.
In a dialogue-heavy, first-person narrative, Milo is often self-denigrating, ironic and self-aware, but ultimately cannot overcome the faults and flaws that he sees in himself. Though he is sharp-witted, funny and verbally quite talented, Milo is driven to destructive habits, taking his wife’s pain medication and indulging in binge drinking at inopportune moments. A person of well-developed critical abilities, Milo is apparently morally incapable of reaching his potential and achieving success.
The story of the ask picks up when Milo is fired from his job in the development office, then called back in for one last "ask." An old college friend, Purdy, has contacted the university about a potential “give” and requests Milo Burke be put on the case. Purdy’s reasons for selecting Milo serve to motivate much of the novel's action.
Purdy comes from a wealthy family but presents himself as a self-made man: fit, enterprising, intelligent and jet-setting. Set apart from everything that might be called “average,” he is the opposite of Milo Burke. The clean surface Purdy presents covers up a secret from his past. This secret is the reason he calls on Milo for help.
A long-standing, secret relationship with a poor woman from his college days results in a child who eventually enlists in the armed services, goes to the Middle East, and suffers the loss of his two legs. This injured son, Don Charboneau, is embittered, violent and...
(The entire section is 1204 words.)
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Chapters 1-2 Summary
The novel opens with Milo, a nearly middle-aged man who works in the development office of a less-than-prestigious university in New York City. Milo is having a lunch of turkey wraps (his favorite) with Horace, a temp who tends to wax philosophical about what’s wrong with the world.
Milo’s job in the development office is to get "gives" from "asks." An ask refers either to a person who can provide something for the university or to the thing they can provide; a give is whatever the ask gives to the university.
Milo notes that he deals with primarily low-level asks and gives such as used televisions and appliances. On the other end of the spectrum is Llewellyn, a world-traveling hotshot who scores multimillion-dollar gives for the university. Milo’s boss is Vargina, a no-nonsense woman who tolerates Milo and Horace’s childish interplay provided they get their work done. Vargina’s name’s close proximity to female anatomy is not an accident; her mother was a crack addict and the nurse at the hospital added the "r" to her name to spare her embarrassment. Milo finds it difficult to focus when Vargina talks to him and frequently indulges in literary-themed sexual fantasies with his buxom supervisor.
The trouble begins when McKenzie, an entitled art student whose father is a major ask, stops by to ask an enrollment question. When Milo tries to explain that he can’t help her, she condescends to him about his low-level job and demands assistance. For reasons he cannot fully explain later, Milo tells McKenzie off and gets fired for it.
The irony of being fired for insulting the over-privileged McKenzie is that Milo himself is an artist. Although he occasionally attempts to paint at home, his efforts largely have been fruitless.
In the wake of his dismissal, Milo’s job searches have dwindled. Although he came close to being hired a few times, his prospects have dried up and now he has stopped looking; instead, he rides the subway or hangs out at a doughnut shop.
While eating his doughnut, Milo reflects on the fact that he used to fantasize about wiping out large groups of people (via flamethrower). He acknowledges his daydreams were disturbing, but they left him during happier times, only to return now.
After an encounter with a presumably homeless lunatic with pedophiliac designs (whom Milo dubs Kiddie Diddler), Milo receives a text from his wife,...
(The entire section is 453 words.)
Chapters 3-4 Summary
Upon returning home, Milo attempts to sneak a Vitamin Water out of the view of his young son, Bernie, who is obsessed with juice. He tells Maura that the other message he received while he was out was from his old job, asking him to come in.
As Bernie continually interrupts them (mostly with requests for Milo’s “juice” or questions about his new favorite subject, foreskins), Milo and Maura try to figure out why the office that fired him two months ago would want to see him again. Maura fears it involves legal action from McKenzie’s family.
Milo returns to the development office and finds himself in an awkward conference with Vargina and Llewellyn, the latter doing nothing to disguise his dislike for Milo. Milo returns his disdain with pointed jabs about Llewellyn’s affected Anglophile tendencies. They are soon joined by Dean Cooley (to whom Milo refers as War Crimes), an ex-military man who now heads the development office.
The three explain that a major ask specifically requested Milo and that he can win his job back if he lands the ask. The dean reveals that the ask is Purdy Stuart, an old friend of Milo’s, and leaves. Milo seems to recognize that their needing him has afforded him a small amount of power. Llewellyn further insults Milo and accuses him of leering; when Milo later attempts to apologize to Vargina for leering, she reveals that it was Horace who felt that Milo was eyeing him.
Milo recalls his college days with Purdy as he ponders why his old friend demanded him for this engagement. Purdy came from money but had made his own fortune by getting in online music and celebrity culture early in its development. Even as a young man, Purdy seemed to understand the unspoken class system in America and was keenly aware of his own place at the top of that system. He often broke up with girls if they weren’t in his league, including Constance, whom Milo later dated. In college, Purdy always seemed destined for greater things, but Milo noted his ability to be friends with a wide variety of people (including those who would become future business contacts after he left college).
Looking back, Milo notes with sad irony how all of them thought they were destined for greater things; once reality set in, Purdy was the one who emerged from the pack successfully. Milo now wonders if he knew it all along and simply humored the others.
(The entire section is 420 words.)
Chapters 5-6 Summary
Milo meets Purdy for lunch at a steakhouse and decides to cash in on the experience, ordering a huge feast and downing lots of liquor. When Purdy is in the restroom, Milo even helps himself to some of Purdy’s steak and potatoes.
Once the catching-up has subsided, Purdy decides to get down to business: he is interested in doing a considerable give and Llewellyn has led him to believe that Mediocre University (as Milo calls it) is looking to step up their game. Like everything else, Purdy describes it in terms of cultural and financial cachet; in his world, everything seems to have some kind of value. He also notes Milo’s bitter, hyper-cynical attitude and chastises him for it.
Milo admits that he thinks Purdy was born into privilege and didn’t truly earn his money. Finally, Purdy reveals to the increasingly drunk Milo that his interest in the university stems from his wife. She attended the university’s art program and had a great experience (which Purdy financed, naturally).
When Milo asks why he requested him on the job, Purdy speaks vaguely about their shared history as well as some things that Purdy will need to ask of Milo at a later point. Purdy also notices that Milo ate his food and ascribes it to an overall need to grow up.
Milo blacks out and wakes up in a cab heading over the bridge to his home in Queens, with fare stuffed in his hand.
The next day finds Milo nursing a punishing hangover on his couch as his wife gets ready for work. Bernie’s school was abruptly canceled for the day, leaving his parents to arrange daycare for him. Bernie’s school is a small, art-oriented, and private one whose faculty are prone to lots of "navel-gazing retreats."
Maura asks what Milo is going to do that day, and he replies with the vaguest of explanations. Maura again seems to hint at his lack of drive before she heads off to work. Finally, Christine, Bernie’s babysitter, arrives. Milo notes that Christine’s extremely low rates for her services are indicative of the low quality of care she provides. Many of the kids in her “program” are rough around the edges, and their influence has started to rub off on Bernie.
When Milo straps Bernie into a woeful toddler seat, Christine plays The Passion of the Christ on the in-car DVD players, despite Milo’s voiced concerns.
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Chapters 7-8 Summary
Milo’s first day back at his old job is jarringly surreal. He encounters Horace, who now has a much larger space in the office (including Milo’s old desk). Horace is in the middle of a sexually graphic conversation with his own mother about a significantly older woman he is dating. When Milo tries to apologize for the harassment Vargina mentioned, Horace claims he only did it as a joke.
Horace’s open relationship with his mother reminds Milo of his strained relations with his own mom. Milo was never able to understand why his mother put up with his father’s philandering and other bad behavior. To make matters worse, when his father was dying, Milo found himself at odds with his mother about the best care plan for his dad.
Milo’s father died during his junior year of college, right before Milo moved in with Purdy and the rest of their cohorts. The day before Milo left for college, his father gave him a Spanish knife, explaining it had come from a cathouse of uncertain origin. When Milo graduated, he left the knife in a kitchen drawer at his old place. When he returned there for a party, he discovered the knife, only to be accused of stealing it by the new female tenant, the snooty daughter of a former governor. Milo relinquished the knife and now forever believes that his inability to keep it was proof that he didn’t deserve it.
On the way home from work, Milo takes a shortcut through a neighborhood playground and is shocked when he sees a man and his child playing; they resemble a family he used to know. Milo used to see the father often in the playground or watching his kids play in the yard. Occasionally, they would make small talk; although it wasn’t about anything important, it gave Milo the sense that they were in a similar place in life. Milo felt that they were both part of a new generation of fatherhood that was more involved on a day-to-day basis.
One day, Milo was reading the paper and saw a picture of a familiar face. The man, his wife, and both of their children had been killed in a terrible highway accident. Milo notes that the man’s early death prevented him from eventually being labeled a bad father (a fate for which Milo feels destined). Milo is still haunted by his acquaintance whenever he passes by their now-empty house or this familiar playground.
(The entire section is 421 words.)
Chapters 9-10 Summary
Milo races to pick up Bernie from the home of Christine, his low-rent babysitter. When he arrives at the house, he discovers that the daycare children are under the watch of Nick, Christine’s volatile brother. As Nick shoots some of the kids with Vitamin Water from a plastic gun, he asks Milo if he wants to make some money helping him build a deck. Milo, who is uneasy around Nick, vacillates, but Nick makes him promise to give him a firm answer soon.
Noticing Bernie is not among the children running around screaming, Milo heads into the house, momentarily worried that the lack of supervision could leave Bernie susceptible to a variety of deadly accidents. Instead, he finds Bernie biting the crotch of one of his playmates, Aiden, and escorts him out as Nick regales the yard children with a story of shotgun suicide.
On the way home, Bernie mentions that he heard Maura on the phone with a male friend named Paul. Milo initially thought Paul was gay but feels differently now as his son reports that she was using words like “pansy” and “depressive” to describe Milo.
That evening after Milo goes to bed, Milo’s awkward joking gives way to an argument in which he attempts to find out what Maura said to Paul. Before she can answer, she must head upstairs because Milo’s yelling has awoken Bernie.
Milo tries to make progress with Purdy, who is out of town at an “Ideas Festival.” Purdy’s ongoing procrastination has put Milo in serious financial straits, so he travels to visit his mother in his old house.
Milo’s mother, Claudia, came out as a lesbian shortly after her husband’s death; her much younger lover, Francine, answers the door. Claudia remains ensconced in an altitude tent in her living room and does not come out to greet her son. This latest new-age obsession is part of Claudia’s larger obsession with warding off death.
While Francine fetches Milo a beer, he asks his mother if he can borrow ten thousand dollars. She balks, citing financial straits of her own as well as Milo’s need to grow up and take responsibility for himself. When Milo asks her to take a more active role in Bernie’s life, she refuses. He vulgarly insults her and Claudia terminates the conversation abruptly, sending Milo out without emerging from the tent.
(The entire section is 402 words.)
Chapters 11-12 Summary
A cash-strapped Milo agrees to Nick’s deck-building gig to earn some extra money. Early in the morning, Nick picks up Milo in his truck and heads out to get the lumber for the deck.
Along the way, Nick details an elaborate concept he has for a reality television show. The focus of the program would be the last meals of convicts about to be executed. Nick suspects that the practice of giving an inmate whatever he/she wants for a last meal is actually fictional. He believes they only offer food that is within a close vicinity to the prison because so many inmates choose cheap, greasy fast food for their last meal. Nick’s idea is to create a program called Dead Man Dining in which the world’s greatest chefs would prepare the last meals of prisoners awaiting their death sentence.
As Nick wraps up his pitch, it becomes clear that he expects Milo and Maura to be able to use their “connections” to help Nick sell his television concept. When Milo explains that he and Maura don’t have any contacts, a disgruntled Nick makes Milo load all of the heavy lumber into the back of the truck while he sits in his car and weeps.
That night, Maura applies ointments to Milo’s blisters, cuts, and burns from the hard day’s work. Later, she makes a pass at him sexually, but he falls asleep during foreplay. When he wakes up, he is horrified to find Bernie in their bed faux-breastfeeding on Maura, who of course can no longer produce milk.
In the middle of the night, Purdy calls Milo and the two wind up at a candy store that Purdy frequents to prevent himself from returning to his cocaine habit. As they walk around the block, Milo proposes a variety of projects from which Purdy can choose his give, and Purdy vaguely seems to accept all of them (although he questions why none of the projects includes Milo’s passion: painting).
A car picks them up and the driver seems vaguely familiar to Milo. As they head over the bridge to his home in Queens, Purdy explains in great detail some of his reasoning for choosing Milo for his give.
Back in college, Purdy had a secret romance with an underprivileged girl who didn’t fit into his moneyed, elitist lifestyle. They broke up after a few months, and Purdy eventually tried to forget about her. A few years ago, she reentered Purdy’s life and revealed that she had a teenaged son; a paternity test confirmed Purdy was the father....
(The entire section is 564 words.)
Chapters 13-14 Summary
Inside, Milo opens the envelope and finds a considerable sum of money and a stack of correspondence between Purdy and his secret son, Don. In a lengthy email riddled with racist comments, Don unabashedly asks Purdy for money. He intimates that Purdy has no understanding of his life, particularly in the service.
In a note to Milo, Purdy asks Milo to be the courier to deliver the payments to Don. He also wants Milo to find out what Don is all about and if he has any master plan in his pseudo-blackmailing of Purdy. Purdy is terrified that his wife, Melinda, will find out about Don and realize that Purdy has been dishonest with her.
Milo laments his lack of connection with Maura, particularly the downturn in their sex life since Bernie was born. Milo then masturbates to an online site he discovered on Francine’s computer at his mother’s house, Spreadsheet Spreaders.
Later, Milo picks up Bernie from Happy Salamander, his ultra-progressive school, and expresses concern when one of the teachers is about to attach a clothespin to Bernie’s nipple. She explains that it is part of a new pedagogical goal about teaching children the harder edges of life and chastises Milo for not reading the email that laid out this new plan.
After putting Bernie to bed, Milo watches a sappy romantic comedy (produced by the governor’s daughter who took his father’s knife back in college) and finds himself weeping shamelessly at the end. In the past, he would have preferred sports and chastised Maura for wanting to watch a rom-com.
He notes that his relationship with Maura, however unconventional, seems to be the right one. He remembers his earlier relationships, particularly one with Constance, one of Purdy’s exes. He had cheated on her mercilessly, and it made him feel like his own unfaithful father.
Milo also carried on a relationship with his instructor, Lena. One day, late in his last semester, Milo and Lena made love in Milo’s makeshift art studio. He pressed Lena to appraise his work, especially in comparison to his rival, Billy Raskov. Lena deferred the comparison and told Milo that his work was good enough, but then she wondered if he was prepared for what would take to be a working artist (which most likely would not include fame and fortune).
A confused Milo stormed out to see Purdy across campus sitting on a bench with a girl he didn’t recognize. She seemed...
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Chapters 15-16 Summary
Milo heads out on his first visit to Don, Purdy’s son. When he arrives at the building, he is let in by Sasha, Don’s girlfriend. Sasha, who seems vaguely high, continually mists herself to combat the stifling heat of the apartment.
Sasha questions Milo about his involvement with Purdy and the amount of money he has brought. At times Sasha seems to be flirting with Milo, but in her altered state it isn’t fully clear.
Soon, Don arrives home and interrogates Milo about his work with his father. Don takes off his two prosthetic legs and complains of the soreness of his “humps” (the word he uses to describe the remaining parts of his legs). Don asks Milo if he knows any way to score drugs in the neighborhood, but Milo cannot help him.
Don demonstrates a spiky intelligence but is full of rough edges. He is obviously volatile and seems to invest in conspiracy theories. When Milo asks Don if he wants to send a message to Purdy or get together to him, Don replies in an angry diatribe about Purdy’s lack of involvement in his mother’s life. He hopes Purdy gets penile cancer, gets hits by a bus, and then has to spend a year or so in excruciating pain, dying from both.
Milo heads in for one of his periodic visits to the office and notes the large presence of international students, particularly one who sleeps outside Dean Cooley’s office. When he arrives, he engages in a long conversation with Horace, the former temp who is now on the climb in the development office. Horace lets slip that the development office is in trouble. Since the economy crashed, parents (even rich ones) have become gun shy about investing in a four-year education in the arts.
Horace cruelly points out Milo’s own thwarted dreams as an artist, something Milo admitted to him when they were coworkers and (he thought) friends. In the current economic climate, many of the asks have withdrawn their gives, and the department is really counting on Milo securing a big give from Purdy.
Milo goes to see Vargina to find out if what Horace said was true or not. She confirms the department’s shaky position and, like Horace, expresses concerns about Milo’s ability to deliver a big give.
Milo thanks her for her friendship, but Vargina points out that they are coworkers, not friends. When Milo tries to find out about the foreign exchange student on Cooley’s couch, Vargina shuts down the...
(The entire section is 429 words.)
Chapters 17-18 Summary
In great detail, Milo recalls a frightening home invasion near the end of his college career. Three thieves, perhaps believing the apartment to be empty, broke in late at night. While two of them searched the rooms for valuables, the third thief—whom Milo would dub Bat Guy because he brandished a large aluminum bat—corralled the residents in the living room.
Bat Guy’s primary function appeared to be to intimidate the residents while the others looted the place. He broke things with his bat and slammed Billy Raskov’s head into a table. Eventually, Bat Guy took out a gun, set his sights on Constance, and seemed on the verge of initiating some kind of sexual assault.
Out of the corner of his eye, Milo saw Purdy and Michael Florinda emerge from behind the couch. They approached Bat Guy from behind, but he did not turn around because he thought they were the other two invaders.
The two attacked Bat Guy and Purdy got the gun away from him. Bat Guy began choking Michael, so the bat was tossed to Constance (an expert softball player), who beat him until Michael could free himself and pin Bat Guy down. Purdy allowed the other two thieves to leave before the police arrived.
Bat Guy was killed by the police in another altercation a year later, but the fear of the invasion stays with Milo. To this day, he still considers himself a coward because of his inaction.
Milo remembers his father and their limited relationship in his dysfunctional household. Milo’s father sold movie projectors, traveled a lot, and had lots of affairs. All of this made Claudia, Milo’s mother, monumentally unhappy. Claudia and Roger (Milo’s dad) often would have huge fights in which Claudia would break things in frustration.
Thinking back, Milo recalls that maybe some of his most memorable moments with his father were artificial, but even artificial bonding was something he craved and clung to. One evening, his father called Milo in for a chat, which was rare. In addition to telling Milo it was okay if he was gay, Roger tried to break it to him that he and Claudia were on the verge of breaking up. He noted that Milo was a good boy who wants to be a bad boy but can’t quite commit to it.
Milo is haunted when he hears himself uttering phrases to Bernie that his father used to say to him. Pushing aside these memories (or trying to), Milo researches Todd Wilkes, another wounded vet given to...
(The entire section is 462 words.)
Chapters 19-20 Summary
Milo arrives at The Best Place, a high-end birthing megaplex, for a meeting with Purdy. On the way he notes that they have archery, breast-milk banks, a spa, and a host of other services to pamper wealthy expectant mothers and their families.
While Purdy and Melinda finish interviewing midwives, Michael Florida keeps Milo company at the bar. Michael and Milo didn’t really socialize directly in college but did hang out in the same group together.
When Milo brings up the home invasion, Michael reveals that he was in on it and knew the thieves. Michael since gave up drugs and alcohol but remains a sex addict. Milo laments being at the other end of the spectrum with a virtually nonexistent sex life.
When Purdy shows up, Milo conveys the details of his visit with Don (minus the penile cancer/bus invective). When Milo attempts to bring up Don’s assertions that Purdy deserted Don’s mother at a motel, Purdy makes it clear that some topics are off limits; included in those topics is any mention of telling Melinda the truth about Purdy’s son. He gives Milo some more money and again puts off any concrete discussion of the give.
One morning, Milo and Bernie arrive at the Happy Salamander school only to find a sign on the door that school has been closed due to pedagogical infighting. Shortly thereafter, they are joined by Denise and her son, Aiden, one of Bernie’s friends from Christine’s daycare.
As they tussle with the teachers about the inconvenience of closing a school a month and half early, Milo begins to flirt with Denise and fantasize about her sexually. He imagines how their flirting could lead to a covert affair. When they take the kids for an impromptu snack after their run-in with the teachers, Milo realizes that he does not want to have an affair with Denise because he loves Maura and does not want to be a philanderer like his father.
Just as he is about to make his exit, Denise abruptly gets up to leave and meet her boyfriend. Milo’s surprise registers with Denise, who silently seems to understand Milo’s misunderstanding about her friendliness.
An embarrassed Milo heads into the city to surprise Maura for lunch, feeling happy about his wife and son. As he approaches her in the park, he notices her coworker, Paul, sitting next to her with his hand on her leg. Before he can evaluate what’s going on, Bernie runs up to them, making them aware of...
(The entire section is 429 words.)
Chapters 21-22 Summary
The exchange in the park was brief, but Milo knows that Paul and Maura are having an affair by their guilty surprise.
That night at dinner, no one speaks except for random utterances by Bernie, who takes out his penis at the table and begins to play with it. Milo excuses himself to get some air but knows he cannot come back to the house that night.
He ends up in his familiar doughnut shop and buys the Kiddie Diddler a sandwich. Milo later learns that Kiddie Diddler used to own the shop and that his brother has done nothing to help him.
As Milo roams the street, he considers the variety of people he could call to find a place to crash (Purdy, even Don) but finally settles on Horace. Horace greets him at his place a short while later. His apartment turns out to have a most unusual set-up. It houses roughly twenty people, who share a common area. Each tenant has a cage, a small, fenced-in room in which they sleep and keep their personal belongings.
Horace lets Milo sleep on a sleeping bag in his cage while he practices with his band in the common area; miraculously, Milo is able to sleep through it. After a feverishly surreal dream about Ben Franklin advising him on his disaffected life, he awakens to the sight of Horace having sex with a bad-breathed girl in the next cage. The rest of the band continues to play.
The next morning, Milo receives two important emails. The first is from Don to Milo and Purdy. In it, Don inquires about his next payment and makes unsubtle threats about making his information public (he already has called Melinda once and hung up, just so that Purdy would see his name on the caller ID). He also compares his situation to Hamlet and again hints at Purdy having some level of responsibility for his mother’s death.
The second email is from Les, Purdy’s attorney, who is dying of pancreatic cancer. The message requests a meeting with Milo immediately, and Milo quickly departs from Horace’s cage-house.
At the office, Milo meets Les, who obviously is unwell and speaks frankly about his preference of work over family, which is why he is not at home dying. Les conveys that Milo is to go see Don and tell him the amount of money he will receive if signs some nondisclosure agreements Lee has prepared. Lee also has another sizable check for Milo, to be delivered once Don has signed the papers.
Milo wants nothing to do with...
(The entire section is 517 words.)
Chapters 23-24 Summary
Milo calls Don and arranges for a meeting at his house. Christine appears to have deserted her daycare house for the day, so Bernie must accompany Milo to his meeting with Don.
As Don prepares a lunch of store-bought turkey wraps, Bernie quizzes Don about his missing legs. Finally, Milo calls Don in for lunch and the two eat awkwardly before getting down to business.
Milo gives him the figure Lee quoted to pay off Don, and Don immediately asks how much Milo will get for sealing the deal. Milo tells Don he knows that he is a heroin addict; he recognizes the telltale signs in part because he used to do drugs himself.
Don has broken up with underaged Sasha and generally seems depressed. He admits that he has post-traumatic stress disorder and wonders if Purdy and Lee think of him as a psycho. He fills Milo in on some of his mother’s backstory, describing her as a generally depressed woman who had moments of happiness. As Don got to his teenage years, the happy periods sometimes lasted a little longer, and Nathalie would go away for an evening and leave Don at home.
When he was old enough to drive, he followed and spied on her; she was having a secret meeting with Purdy. After one of those overnights, she came back especially depressed. Don entered the service and soon she had her car accident. He was allowed a leave to come visit her, even though she was in a coma.
Don notes that she was at a really nice hospital then but was moved to a state facility after he want back to Iraq. While in transit she died, and Don later discovered that she was moved because Purdy stopped paying for the nicer hospital. That was how Don found out about his father’s existence, and he has always blamed Purdy for his mother’s death
Milo and Maura sit through another silent, tense dinner. When Bernie briefly mentions Milo’s lunch date with Aiden’s mother, Maura notices.
After Bernie goes to bed, Maura and Milo begin trying to hash out their situation. Maura initially insists that Paul is gay but then admits to sleeping with him as well as a woman named Candace at her office.
Milo wants to put everything behind them but vacillates on whether or not he wants to know what Maura’s been doing. When Milo shows Maura a porn site he’s been visiting, she asks him to masturbate in front of her while she finishes the movie (but doesn’t look at him at all).
(The entire section is 505 words.)
Chapters 25-26 Summary
At work, Milo discovers a department meeting and decides to attend it, even though he wasn’t invited. Dean Cooley gives a long-winded military-parable-laden speech that eventually ends in congratulating Llewellyn for another big give.
Cooley also mentions that the father of McKenzie, the pampered art student who got Milo fired, is gravely ill. This turns the focus to Milo and, as Cooley tells the room that Milo was not invited to the meeting, Milo prepares for complete annihilation.
Suddenly Cooley announces that Purdy has just made a huge give in the form of an arts center and congratulates Milo on his work.
Later, Vargina reveals that the foreign exchange student sleeping on Cooley’s couch was part of the deal Purdy put together for the give. When Vargina tells him that Purdy insisted Milo keep his job as a condition of the give, Milo passes out.
When he comes to, Milo apologizes for his inappropriate sexual glances and thoughts about Vargina. He is taken to the hospital for observation and released a few hours later. He heads to his mother’s house, and she notices that he is preoccupied and distraught. The evening ends with him crying in his mother’s lap as Francine rubs his feet. Milo and his mother have made amends, and Milo realizes he will have to face the problems in his life and in his marriage.
Purdy throws a huge, lavish party at his home and invites scores of people, many of them old friends from college. In addition to Milo, there is Charles Goldfarb, who is now a successful author (he even met Milo at a book signing but didn’t recognize him); Lisa and Ginny, former college neighbors who may or may not be lesbian lovers; Billy Raskov, Milo’s long-ago art rival who has just sold an epic painting to Purdy; and Jane, the governor’s-daughter-turned-leftist-filmmaker who took Milo’s father’s knife years ago.
In private, Purdy apologizes for keeping the give a secret and admits that Lee passed away shortly after his visit with Milo. Milo pitches Nick’s death-row kitchen to Jane, who perfectly realizes the concept for Milo but is more interested in a documentary about reality television than reality TV itself. As she walks away, Milo calls after her to ask about his father’s knife; she doesn’t hear him.
Later, Milo finds himself alone with Melinda, Purdy’s wife. She reveals that she knows all about Don and has been in contact with...
(The entire section is 617 words.)
Chapters 27-28 Summary
Milo wakes up the next morning in the throes of an excruciating hangover. As he tries to nurse himself back to health, he tries to call Purdy, Don, and several others but cannot get through to anyone.
Worried about Don, he heads over to his place and encounters Nabeel, the son of the building’s landlord. After bribing Nabeel with one hundred fifty dollars, he lets Milo into the building and up to Don’s apartment. When Don doesn’t immediately respond to his knocks, he asks Nabeel to let him in, fearing Don may have overdosed.
Suddenly, Don opens the door and lets Milo in. Milo apologizes for the previous evening and Don says he’s about to move back to his hometown; he is fed up with the city and his efforts to connect with Purdy. Don finds Milo’s concern condescending and once again asks him to confront the question of why he is participating in Purdy’s family drama.
When Milo heads into the office, he notices that the computer is missing from his desk. Horace claims it was taken for repairs, but Vargina calls him into the conference room and tells him he is being let go. Even the promise of a severance package does not ease the blow.
Milo gives Maura the bulk of Purdy’s last cash payment and vents his frustration about their relationship limbo. As he walks Bernie to school, he realizes his tender feelings for the boy. He tries to impart some advice to the boy: to squander everything and not hold anything inside because it goes bad. He also relates this to a view of the world he learned from his talk with Lee: that everyone is either enslaved or a slaveholder. Bernie doesn’t understand this, but accepts his father’s love and asks for a dinosaur birthday cake.
Later, while napping in the park, Milo runs into Predrag, the young guy who was working the counter at the doughnut shop the night Milo ran into Kiddie Diddler. Predrag shares a doughnut with him as an act of solidarity.
Later, he randomly calls Sasha, Don’s ex-girlfriend who has moved back to Don’s hometown. Although she finds Milo’s call somewhat creepy, she relays some of Don’s troubles in his hometown. Don had gotten into a nearly fatal bar fight that included Todd Wilkes, the vet who regularly preached positive thinking for wounded soldiers on television. Sasha expresses concern that Don might get into more trouble when he moves back to town.
Finally Milo heads out on the bus to...
(The entire section is 465 words.)
Chapters 29-30 Summary
Milo arrives at his mother’s house; his reverie of childhood remembrances is broken when he discovers Purdy and Michael Florida have dropped by for a visit. While the two obviously have charmed Claudia and Francine, Milo is less than happy to see them.
Purdy and Milo head out back to talk as they play tetherball on an old set-up Milo’s father installed years ago. Milo confronts Purdy about all of his lies and deceit, and Purdy confesses he was influential in getting Milo fired because he didn’t want any loose ends.
It is clear that Purdy is trying to feel out Milo to make sure he won’t cause any trouble. He responds to Milo’s accusations by calling him a loser and insulting Milo’s father.
Enraged, Milo rushes Purdy and starts to strangle him with the tetherball cord. Neither seems sure if Milo intends to finish him off; suddenly, Michael Florida dashes out and strikes Milo on the head with what feels like a hammer.
Later, Michael and a dazed Milo and Purdy make their goodbyes to a concerned Claudia and Francine, who seem to sense the volatility of the situation. In Purdy’s car, Purdy further excoriates Milo and hands him his last envelope of money. He makes it clear that they never can be friends again. As he leaves, he throws Milo’s father’s knife back to him; Jane had heard his request at the party after all.
Milo eventually movies into the basement of Kiddie Diddler, whose real name is Harold. Harold’s brother pays Milo to look after Harold in the evenings to make sure he doesn’t wander off.
Milo paints occasionally but now realizes that it will not make him rich and famous; he simply does it because he enjoys it. He considers his relationship with Maura as over, even though he still thinks of her as the love of his life. Despite marriage therapy, Maura will not discontinue her sexual relationship with Paul. Milo shares custody of Bernie with Maura, and the recently reopened Happy Salamander has taken Bernie back as a student.
Milo has been doing deck work with Nick, who is grateful for the contact with Jane. Milo also is being considered for a job at an alcohol rehab facility, which he acknowledges he might need himself.
Don calls Milo out of the blue; he has moved back to his hometown and lives with Sasha again. At first Milo thinks he is calling to make amends, but then Don reveals that he not in a twelve-stop program but...
(The entire section is 629 words.)