Thursday, February 07, 2008

when your relatives are relatively famous

This evening I had the notion to look up a Ring Lardner story called, "I can't Breathe." It's the one Lardner story I have read. The narrator is a character that I am slightly fixated on.

During this search I came across a NYTimes article by his grandson James Lardner in 1985.
"My grandfather has been described as a bitter writer, and I was afraid he might prove too bitter for me. Instead, I discovered that he had changed too, keeping pace with my change. The delusions and posturings of his comic characters brought as much delight as ever but also a sadness I hadn't felt before. My emotions expanded into the vacuum created by an unfeeling narration - just as, I now realize, the author intended."

Which I find to be a very interesting observation about the active and participatory nature of reading.

I had to read this next passage twice before I got it. It was worth the second try.
"Rereading ''You Know Me Al,'' I laughed again at Jack Keefe's performance in verbal battle. ''I got a notion to take a punch at you,'' he announces. ''Oh you have have you?'' says one of his fellow ballplayers. ''Yes I have have I?'' Jack replies triumphantly. I laughed, but the laughter was suffused with the memory of errant comebacks of my own."

Someone made a comment at the event to the question of why RL didn't write a novel that he was not sure of RL's ability to write a good one.
"If he means a novel in which the author or his hero searches for fundamental meaning and asks deep questions en route, I'm also doubtful. The characters my grandfather focused his attention on spent much of their mental energy in the pursuit of money, power, respect and other short-term gains. Self-awareness was not their strong suit. Nor was awareness of other people and their feelings. His protagonists didn't learn much from life, and that was frequently the point of his stories and the source of their humor. His themes may have been more suited to the short story than the novel. So, perhaps, is a good deal of life as most people live it."

I might have to pick up an anthology and spend a little time with this Ring Lardner Fella.

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