You Know Me Al: A Review
All I knew about Ring Lardner when I picked up You Know Me Al is that J.D. Salinger liked him a lot. Now that I have read You Know Me Al, I can agree with this. I now know that Mr. Lardner is both an excellent writer and a terrible person.

The book is built on a series of letters sent by "busher" Jack Keefe to his hometown buddy Al. For those not in the know, the book is set in the good old days when being a baseball player wasn't a career path you had to decide on when you were ten so that you could be funneled into the right athletics classes, high schools, college varsity teams, and product endorsement groups. Being a baseball player was something you did to forget about the fact that you were an uneducated, penniless alcoholic and wife-beater in post-WWI America.

It was a Golden Age.

Jack Keefe, one of the lucky uneducated, penniless alcoholics, gets sold by his bush-league baseball club to the Chicago White Sox on the strength of his fastball. The rest of the story follows Keefe's exploits as he is happily taken advantage of by women, club managers, doctors, drunks, and pretty much everyone but the titular Al. When Keefe isn't being taken advantage of, he is actively destroying his life by drinking, disobeying ball club orders, or making ill-advised financial decisions. It is all the fun of an AA meeting, right in your home.

This could have been nothing but a short satirical piece about a wacky baseball player and his improperly-spelled letters home. Initially it was just a short satirical piece, something written very quickly for money. The money came in, so Ring Lardner--the card--extended it to cover some three or four years of Keefe's life, including a couple of marriages and a kid that Keefe accidentally poisons in one of the book's most side-splitting scenes.

In other words, Ring Lardner takes the time to make it clear that Keefe is just a disastrous person and that things will never get better no matter what he does because everything he does is wrong. He does this while somehow making Keefe both sympathetic and mean, brutal even to everyone he knows. He does this while writing about baseball games using old vaudeville lines and crazy misspellings ("World Serious" being the best.) He does this while earning a lot of money, much of which was probably later loaned to F. Scott Fitzgerald to keep him alive. So there's that, too.

In short: it's great. Even Virginia Woolf likes You Know Me Al and she hates everything. In fact, it's now said that the myth of baseball was forever destroyed by this one book, by this one man. Baseball players have the reputation of being weird crotch-scratching drunkards and louts--as opposed to, I don't know, Aryan champions of the American vanguard--because of this Ring Lardner. The man who ruined baseball for everyone.

So yes: take me out to your ball game of moral horrors, Mr. Lardner. Buy me some popcorn and Cracker Jacks. I don't care if we never, ever come back.

But I am glad I got a wife with some sense though she kicked because I did not get no room with a bath which would cost me $2 a day instead of $1.50. I says I guess the clubhouse is still open yet and if I want a bath I can go over there and take the shower. She says Yes and I suppose I can go and jump in the lake. But she would not do that Al because the lake here is cold at this time of the year. -- You Know Me Al

Posted by future on Thu, 27 Mar 2008 15:32:01 -0400 -- permanent link

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