You know me, Al""--or more likely you don't. What a very special contradiction in human terms was Ring Lardner, both the man and the writer; and it is just these qualities of unpredictable change and humor (""How do you look when I'm sober?"") which highlight this undeceived biography by his son. When you first meet Ring Lardner and his long-courted-to-be-happily-ever-after wife Ellis and their four boys and their ""milch"" cow, you're right back in the Clarence Day family hour. For Ring, the ordinary product of comfortable circumstances and conventional values, was a rigid, in fact prudish man of no quick talent, writing to make a living while also composing some indifferent lyrics and worse verse. Ring was a late bloomer (three of the four boys outwrote him at a much earlier age); only in the last fifteen years of his life was he converted from a ""journalistic funnyman to a literary figure""--a figure whose scant reverence for literature and the language he so colloquially enhanced made most critics uncomfortable. Those were the years when he learned How To Write Short Stories and also moved from the newspaper to the Algonquin world, which assisted his drinking. As for those boys, a third of the book deals with their early ""game"" of telling stories, shared loves (often for the same girl), similar careers (three out of four wrote successfully), and similar premature deaths (one with the Lincoln Brigade, one at the end of WW II, one within six weeks after the death of their mother). Ring, Jr. also accounts for his career in Hollywood, the blacklist, and the sentence he served. With an acknowledged reluctance, a once-removed seriousness, and a very real affection, this is mostly Ring Lardner, Sr.'s story--a commemoration of the All-American humorist who pushed that ""stub pen"" against every form of sham. There's no mistaking the real pleasure of the oncet in a wile book that touches all the bases.