Ringgold Wilmer Lardner was an important twentieth century contributor to a long line of American colloquial humorists, but he often applied his mastery of slang to satire. His pessimism sometimes assumed Swiftian dimensions, and his oblique commentaries on the human race could be full of acid.
Born on March 6, 1885, he grew up in prosperous surroundings in Niles, Michigan. After abandoning the study of engineering, he fell into journalism in 1905. By 1919 he had worked as a highly successful sportswriter on several papers, mainly in Chicago. His marriage in 1911, which produced four sons, was generally happy in spite of his dependence on alcohol. In 1913 Lardner took over “In the Wake of the News,” a column in the Chicago Tribune. The Jack Keefe stories, written as a series of semiliterate letters by an oafish baseball player, began appearing in 1914; they were collected into an epistolary novel, You Know Me Al, in which Keefe, a selfish and cruel braggart, exposes all his obnoxious qualities in his own letters chronicling his athletic career. This was followed by Treat ’em Rough—which deals with Keefe’s adventures in World War I—Own Your Own Home, and The Real Dope. The Big Town, Lardner’s second novel, is a brash midwesterner’s account of his experiences in New York City.
How to Write Short Stories, published in 1924, is a central work in Ring Lardner’s...
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