I really wanted to like The Ask; it was recommended on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, and Lipsyte even read a chunk that I liked. As someone who works for a large University and used to work in a nonprofit fundraising office, I’m kind of the prime audience for a satire set in a college fundraising office.
But the truth is that The Ask doesn’t do much for me. It’s funny on a page-to-page level, but there’s no big insight or emotional hook to really drag me along. A book doesn’t need likable characters, necessarily, but it does need at least an interesting character. The Ask has no such thing, just another underachieving, heady schlub adrift in the weird decline of 21st-Century America. If I wanted that, I can get it from other books that do it better, like Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story or Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. Or from my own head, for that matter.