Friday, October 4, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 164: Ring Lardner, Where Do You Get That Noise? (#115)

Ring Lardner, "Where Do You Get That Noise?" (1915) from Baseball: A Literary Anthology:

Here's a Ring Lardner piece that reminds me of James Thurber's baseball story, "You Could Look It Up," which itself reminded me of a Ring Lardner piece. Well, now we're just in a hallway of mirrors. The LoA page introduces this story with two pieces of info that might be interesting: Ring Lardner got a job as a baseball journalist in Chicago at a time when Chicago's teams weren't much to write home about, so he started to focus on the human side of things--the players, rather than the plays; and Virginia Woolf wrote a positive note about Lardner's baseball stories, going on to note that baseball provides a center for American authors to write about for a populace "whom a vast continent isolates, whom no tradition controls." Baseball, really?

That said, this is a pleasant (but long) story--longer-seeming that Thurber's story about the midget Pearl joining the baseball team. Here the story is about the intrusion of a ball-player named Hawley: a braggart, a know-it-tall, a compulsive arguer. Lardner comes right out and gives us this sketch of his character: the narrator asks his friend (on an opposing team) why they would trade away such a good player and the friend lays out the bones of the sketch that the story will then fill in with examples.

So we're not surprised when Hawley gets into a discussion with teammate Carey and makes some ridiculous and double-sided arguments... about the weather. Not only does Hawley demand the last word and take any position opposing his interlocutors, he also argues about silly things. Which isn't too bad for the team--though it does go on for a while. (The lesson here being: if you summarized the situation and then dramatize it once, you don't really need to dramatize it again.)

But when Hawley starts giving Carey unwanted and unwonted advice about Carey's slump, Carey decides to get rid of him. Carey accomplishes this by tricking Hawley into arguing against the beauty of blondes--which happens to describe the manager's beloved wife. Even though Carey is successful at that--the team gets rid of Hawley right quick--the last line notes that he's still in something of a slump.

Which shows how the story has slowly changed from being about Hawley's annoying habit--which is annoying, but not really hurting anyone. Instead the story starts to focus on Carey's problem, as evidenced by the fact that Hawley's signature dismissal of another's argument--"Where do you get that noise?"--is now given to Carey.

Still, for all that there's some comedy and some tragedy here, the story overstays its welcome for me. It also gives us a narrator who seems to understand perfectly what's going on, which is a change from some of Lardner's other works.

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