Ex Parte by Ring Lardner, 1928
The magic trick:
Enjoyable first-person narration
Larry David, in a great episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, expresses his feelings about home tours. Want to see the house? No, not really. It’s just bedrooms and bathrooms, right? Eh.
I’m sure I’ve misquoted him, but that’s the gist of it.
And he’s right! Of course he’s right.
So I would not imagine Larry David would much enjoy “Ex Parte.” It’s essentially a guy giving the reader a house tour for 10 pages. First he brags about the house that his friend bought. Then he brags about buying said friend’s house. Then he gives us a tour of his wife’s friend’s house, mocking every aspect.
I have to figure this all was pretty funny in 1928.
Ninety years later?
Not funny. At least not to me. Not to Larry David either.
As with any Ring Lardner story, though, kudos to the narrative voice. His narrators are always good.
And that’s quite a trick on Lardner’s part.
The living-room walls were brown bare boards without a picture or scrap of wall-paper. On the floor were two or three “hooked rugs,” whatever that means, but they needed five or six more of them, or one big carpet, to cover up all the knots in the wood. There was a maple “low-boy”; a “dough-trough” table they didn’t have space for in the kitchen; a pine “stretcher” table with sticks connecting the four legs near the bottom so you couldn’t put your feet anywhere; a “Dutch” chest that looked as if it had been ordered from the undertaker by one of Singer’s Midgets, but he got well; and some “Windsor” chairs in which the only position you could get comfortable was to stand up behind them and lean your elbows on their back.
Not one piece that matched another, and not one piece of mahogany anywhere. And the ceiling, between the beams, had apparently been plastered by a workman who was that way, too.