The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy

by Mark Dorset


  Kraft, Eric

Eric Kraft is the author of a large (and growing) work of fiction called The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy, which Newsweek called “The literary equivalent of Fred Astaire dancing: great art that looks like fun.” It consists, so far, of eight novels: 

Herb ’n’ Lorna
Reservations Recommended
LITTLE Follies
Where Do You Stop?
What a Piece of Work I Am
At Home with the Glynns
Leaving Small’s Hotel
Inflating a Dog
and an interactive hypertext, or “hyperfiction,” to use his word for it: 
The Complete Peter Leroy (so far)
Kraft grew up in Babylon, New York, graduated from Harvard College, and holds a master’s degree in teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He has taught school and written textbooks, and he was for a time co-owner and co-captain of a clam boat, which sank. He has been the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, was for a time chairman of PEN New England, and has been awarded the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature. He is the father of two sons, Scott and Alexis. He and his wife, Madeline, have lived in Cambridge, Arlington, Stow, Newburyport, and Boston, Massachusetts; and East Hampton, Sag Harbor, and New York, New York. E-mail will reach him at or

David Behrens:

Newsweek called him “the literary equivalent of Fred Astaire dancing: great art that looks like fun.” Time saw him as “luminously intelligent.” The New York Times found his novels “full of mystery and wonder.” And 10 days ago in Newsday, book critic Richard Gehr praised him as a “buoyant and brilliant presence” on the occasion of his eighth and most recent novel.
   So why isn’t Eric Kraft a household word?
   That’s what Kraft wonders, too.
   First published in the 1980s, the Long Island-born novelist wanted “to be a writer” in his teen years, he recalled, “rather than actually wanting to write.”
   He was a student then at West Babylon High School. As a Harvard undergraduate in the mid-1960s, he became more eager to write. Now a citizen of the world of serious fiction, he was never tempted to turn out potboilers and sell millions of copies.
   He’s much more comfortable being admired by critics, other writers and college English majors. The only problem from the beginning was all those good reviews.
   They first appeared in 1988 when he published the first of his eight novels, Herb ’n’ Lorna.
   “The book was reviewed on Page 1 of the Times Book Review. I thought my career and fortune were made! What else would one be waiting for, if not that? But my book never even went into a second printing.”
   Herb ’n’ Lorna began a continuing series of related novels, flavored with a Dickensian-tinged collective title, The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences and Observations of Peter Leroy.
   All of his works feature Peter Leroy as narrator, hero, alter ego and fictionalized fellow author. Leroy grew up in “Babbington,” an eccentric little village on “Bolotomy Bay,” his stand-in for Great South Bay.
   Since 1988, seven more satiric, wildly inventive and highly accessible tales of Babbington followed. The most recent, Inflating [a] Dog (Picador, $25), was published this month. Like earlier works, it has been accorded glowing reviews.
   But Kraft is hesitant to carry his good notices to the bank. He has stopped thinking in terms of blockbuster success. “I’m not bitter,” he said, adding wryly, “not all the time.”
   During an interview at his Manhattan apartment, Kraft scanned his 20 years of critical success with a fair amount of dismay.
   Each book would come out and my wife, Maddy, and I would sit together reading reviews and there were times when the two of us would be in tears, because they were so amazing, so good,” he said.
   Reviewers and readers have often told him that after reading one of his books, they were moved to read the earlier adventures. Luckily all are still in print.
   “So how could it be that so few people have ever even seen them?” Kraft wondered, more curious than perturbed. “Why it has continued this way, I have no idea.”
   Three decades ago, he and his wife formed Kraft & Kraft, writing and editing textbooks for educational publishers. He was just beginning to experiment with Leroy as his hero in the first of nine novellas. Later, they were published under the title Little Follies, the third book.
   His devotion to the ongoing project was recognized two years ago with the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature. “So I didn’t think by now I’d still have to work the day job,” he said.
   There is no question, however, that his unique relationship is still intact with Leroy, his companion, as he calls him, on a literary journey.
   Leroy feels the same way. In the preface to Leaving Small’s Hotel, Leroy muses on Kraft, the writer:
It’s a curious kind of partnership. . . . As time has passed, each of us has found himself liberated by the other . . . each of us has found that to a certain degree, he has become what he is through the agency of the other.
In fact, Kraft confided, “Leroy is convinced that he invented me.”
   Kraft met his alter ego — well, imagined him — in an epiphanous dream during his Harvard days.
   “I dozed off while studying a German lesson in an overheated campus library, leaning back on my chair. When I woke up from a dream, I found myself on the floor with books around me and people laughing.”
   His dream was really just a snapshot, he said, but the image recurred in his memory for years. “I saw a small boy sitting on a dilapidated dock on Great South Bay, his feet dangling in the water.”
   A decade later, Kraft began to shape Leroy’s world — his family, his friends, his sexual fantasies, the whole town of Babbington.
   Mailing out a newsletter, Kraft regaled his friends with short episodes in Leroy’s life, a life analogous to his own.
   “I was still experimenting, but I thought it added up to something. At the time, I wanted an audience.” The first of nine Leroy novellas, My Mother Takes a Tumble, was published in 1982, six years before Crown published Herb ’n’ Lorna.
   So Peter Leroy became the hero of Kraft’s life. “He occupies a good deal of my life,” the author admitted. “Maddy welcomed him because she found I’m a happier person when I am in Babbington. . . . Since I'll drift off to the village every now and then, she does all the driving now because she feels sometimes I’ll make turns that exist only in Babbington.”
   The decision to adopt the voice of an alter ego in his writing life did not come by accident. While in college, it was the death of his maternal grandparents that turned his thoughts to serious literary work.
   “I knew that I wanted to write about my childhood. I felt their loss but I saw myself at the center, with my connection to my childhood slipping away. But everything I tried to write about myself was strained and awkward and self-important.
   “Peter gave me the way to write more honestly about myself and my family. When I wrote as if I were someone else, I found I could be much less protective of the personality at the center of the story.”
   Sales of his first seven books have averaged about 10,000 copies each. His latest book had a first printing of 6,000. But writing bestsellers was never crucial, Kraft said. “On a cold winter night, Maddy likes to say, she loves to get into bed with a good book and a [great] writer.”
“In Praise of Literary Kraft”
Newsday, July 31, 2002

The narrator of Henry James’s “The Next Time,” speaking of Ralph Limbert, the writer who tries and tries to write a book that will sell but keeps writing one unsalable masterpiece after another:

Several persons admired his books—nothing was less contestable; but they appeared to have a mortal objection to acquiring them by subscription or by purchase: they begged or borrowed or stole, they delegated one of the party perhaps to commit the volumes to memory and repeat them, like the bards of old, to listening multitudes.  Some ingenious theory was required at any rate to account for the inexorable limits of his circulation.
Ralph Limbert, in “The Next Time”:
“We’ve sat here prating of ‘success,’ heaven help us, like chanting monks in a cloister, hugging the sweet delusion that it lies somewhere in the work itself, in the expression, as you said, of one’s subject or the intensification, as somebody else somewhere says, of one’s note.  One has been going on in short as if the only thing to do were to accept the law of one’s talent, and thinking that if certain consequences didn’t follow it was only because one wasn’t logical enough.  My disaster has served me right—I mean for using that ignoble word at all.  It’s a mere distributor’s, a mere hawker’s word.  What is ‘success’ anyhow?  When a book’s right it’s right—shame to it surely if it isn’t.  When it sells it sells—it brings money like potatoes or beer.  If there’s dishonour one way and inconvenience the other, it certainly is comfortable, but it as certainly isn’t glorious, to have escaped them.  People of delicacy don’t brag either about their probity or about their luck.  Success be hanged!—I want to sell.  It’s a question of life and death.  I must study the way.  I’ve studied too much the other way—I know the other way now, every inch of it.  I must cultivate the market—it’s a science like another.  I must go in for an infernal cunning.  It will be very amusing, I foresee that; I shall lead a dashing life and drive a roaring trade.  I haven’t been obvious—I must be obvious.  I haven’t been popular—I must be popular.”

John Barth:

That one’s books, at least most of them, not disappear before their author does: For a “serious” writer in late-twentieth-century America, that is success aplenty.
Once Upon a Time
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Copyright © 1996, 2001 by Eric Kraft

A Topical Guide to the Complete Peter Leroy (so far) is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 

All rights reserved. No part of this guide may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author

Portions of A Topical Guide to the Complete Peter Leroy (so far) were first published by Voyager, Inc., as part of The Complete Peter Leroy (so far).

The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.