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, Maura. She is aware that he has given up on the job search and asks Milo to bring home some supplies for Bernie, their young son. For now Milo ignores a text from a more familiar number: that of the development office that just fired him.