For two years in a row, I saw Sam Lipsyte read the same passage from his novel The Ask at the Brooklyn Book Festival. I forgave him for reading it twice only because it was an ideal snippet to read in a short time frame: funny, sad, smart. It made me want to read more. And so, when I finally received the book in the mail from my brother for my birthday, I was excited to get the long form, to find out how that snippet I knew so well fit in to the rest of the book.
I have to say that I was, sadly, a bit disappointed. The book did deliver on being funny, in a misanthropic, snide sort of way. There were some hilarious characterizations of certain types of people (especially the super-experimental pre-school educators/dairy farmers) and the narrator’s little son was charming, adorable and heart-rending without being too saccharine or precocious. The premise of the book wasn’t bad either: a not-so-great development officer at a mediocre college gets fired, then brought back, although not quite rehired, when a former college buddy is targeted by the school as a potential donor. Hijinks ensue.
I guess the big problem is that I don’t really care to read about hijinks. Or, if I am reading about hijinks, I want them liberally interspersed with serious, quiet reflection. Or moments of meaningful communication. This book was too quick and snappy for me. It wasn’t kind enough. I am, of course, all for unkind things happening in books, but don’t generally go for books where the author isn’t kind to his characters. Sam Lipsyte was definitely not kind to these characters, not to any of them. And yet, the book didn’t quite take itself seriously enough to be dark.
Despite all this criticism, I read this book in the South Beach sun and could just as easily have put it down in the sand and taken a nap. But I wasn’t bored by it, not at all–Mr. Lipsyte can certainly write quick, surprising sentences that grab and hook a reader along. But just like I was exhausted by the relentless satire of Super Sad True Love Story, I was by this, too. I think that satire isn’t for me.