The Ask Essay - Critical Essays

Literary Criticism and Significance

Sam Lipsyte’s bibliography includes three novels and one collection of short stories: Home Land (2004), The Subject Steve (2001), The Ask (2010), and Venus Drive (2000). Lipsyte is also a former editor at the online literary publication FEED. In 2008 Lipsyte received a Guggenheim fellowship for which he thanks the Guggenheim’s on the “Acknowledgements” page of The Ask.

Prior to the publication and success of The Ask, Lipsyte is described as having a cult following but never a break-out book. His first novel, The Subject Steve, reportedly, sold 1,100 hardback copies. After receiving good reviews and selling 18,000 copies of his second novel, Home Land, Lipsyte’s third novel, The Ask, had an initial print run of 20,000 copies at the publishing house Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The Ask has been very well-received by the major critical outlets in the media though it did not garner any awards like his previous novel, Home Land, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the year and winner of the Believer Book Award.

Reviewed in the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and many more major critical publications, The Ask received high praise on publication. Slate characterized Lipsyte as a “fine microbrewer of bitterness” and the New York Times called the book “well hewn, funny [and] sophisticated.”

Reviewers have focused on the humor and dark social content of Lipsyte’s work, drawing comparisons between Sam Lipsyte and famous American satirist writers like Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse-Five; Cat’s Cradle) and Joseph Heller (Catch-22).

Though the novel does not identify itself as satire, this connection has been consistently made in reviews of the work.

Lipsyte’s work has been popular in literary circles and among young adults. The humor and novelty of his style has also made his work popular in the UK. Some critics have taken to criticizing reviews of The Ask suggesting that journalists have gone too far in conflating Lipsyte with his protagonist, the loser Milo. Though Lipsyte shares some similarities with Milo Burke, he is indeed successful, married, and employed.

Lipsyte works as a professor at Columbia University in New York City, where he teaches creative writing.