Sunday, February 27, 2011

Alibi Ike

Tales of the tall-tale teller are an American staple. From Mark Twin’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County to James Thurber’s “The Catbird Seat,” we love to read stories in which the characters spin and doctor the truth and in which they don’t particularly mind being caught in a lie.

Ring Lardner’s “Alibi Ike” holds its head tall amongst such tales.

I haven’t read much of Lardner’s work – in fact, Alibi Ike is the first of his I’ve read. But that’s part of the goal of the Treasury of Laughter blog: Introducing myself to a grater variety of writers. But back to Lardner: What I have read about him points to his inventive use of vernacular, and I suppose I see that in Alibi Ike. What’s most striking to me in this story – and I’m sure the vernacular is part of it – is how natural Lardner’s dialogue sounds. Lardner has obviously spent a lot of time listening to baseball players and how they speak and is able to transcribe that talk fluidly onto paper.

Here’s such an example, not only of the fluidity of the writing, but also the tall tales Alibi Ike likes to tell. Full text of the story, for the curious, is here:

"My uncle out in Nebraska ain't expected to live," he says. "I ought to send a telegram."
"Would that save him?" says Carey.

"No, it sure wouldn't," says Ike, "but I ought to leave my old man know where I'm at."

"When did you hear about your uncle?" says Carey.

"Just this mornin'," says Ike.

"Who told you? "ast Carey.

"I got a wire from my old man," says Ike.

"Well," says Carey, "your old man knows you're still here yet this afternoon if you was here this mornin'.

Trains leavin' Cincinnati in the middle o' the day don't carry no ball clubs."

"Yes," says Ike, "that's true. But he don't know where I'm goin' to be next week."

"Ain't he got no schedule?" ast Carey.

"I sent him one openin' day," says Ike, "but it takes mail a long time to get to Idaho."

"I thought your old man lived in Kansas City," says Carey.

"He does when he's home," says Ike.

"But now," says Carey, "I s'pose he's went to Idaho so as he can be near your sick uncle in Nebraska."

"He's visitin' my other uncle in Idaho."

"Then how does he keep posted about your sick uncle?" ast Carey.

"He don't," says Ike. "He don't even know my other uncle's sick. That's why I ought to wire and tell him."

I know it sounds rather pedestrian to us now, as a lot of writers take this “transcribe talk” approach, but in Lardner’s time, it was pretty unusual, so that’s how it stood out.

No comments:

Post a Comment