About the Book
To Peter Leroy’s adult chagrin, his home town of Babbington, a seaside village on Long Island, is being turned into a theme park, centering on the historic day on which he, a fifteen-year-old adventurer, returned after completing 4,000 miles of solo flying to New Mexico and back. The “Birdboy” was received as a hero then, but the grown man, worried that an intrepid journalist will start digging, decides to prepare for “full discolosure” of the earthbound truth behind his mythic flight. He reminisces about the aerocycle that he built in his parents’ garage based on drawings from Impractical Craftsman magazine; his application to the Faustroll Institute for Promising High School Students; and his glorious send-off by the population of Babbington on the journey of a lifetime.
|by Eric Kraft, as Peter Leroy|
|Brief Excerpts from
Kraft’s unpretentious and engrossing storytelling make for a pleasant, escapist read. Publishers Weekly, May 1, 2006 [MORE]
Sweetly philosophical and archly literary, this is one very smart, tender, and funny novel. Booklist [MORE]
The past is recaptured in accents ruefully funny enough to turn Marcel Proust into Jacques Tati in the latest Chronicle of Peter Leroy. Kirkus Reviews [MORE]
An earnest, warmly nostalgic flight of fancy dotted with philosophical musings on the nature of fiction vs. reality, memory, and loss. Library Journal [MORE]
The perfect jumping-in book for readers new to Kraft’s vividly rendered and gleefully satirical fictional cosmos. . . . Because Kraft expresses an abiding faith in steadfast love and impossible dreams, because he uses humor to shape a humanistic ethos, and because he takes profound pleasure in the resonance of language and the magic of storytelling, reading Kraft’s inventive and effervescent tales is a rare and sustaining joy. Donna Seaman, Newsday [MORE]
At its deepest level, the book is a study in disconnects — the gaps between aspiration and achievement, between image and reality, and, most of all, between the seeming sanctuary of the past and the unsettling nature of the present . . . a splendid start to this promising “Flying” trilogy. Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times [MORE]
Taking Off is a deft piece of work — a great tale of a young man with big dreams and maybe not much more. . . . There is no Babbington on the map, though the world Eric Kraft describes is so real, you’ll be driven to pull out the Rand McNally to look for it. . . . There are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments. . . . Taking Off is a wonderful book — a hilarious and masterfully told tale written with such an economy of language, it reads with the urgency of telegram. William McKeen, St. Petersburg Times [MORE]
A sweet story that meanders gently like a winding stream, branching out here and there and giving the reader ample room to sit under a shady tree and consider where it will go around the next bend. . . . An engrossing story with a lovably naive protagonist. Dan Murphy, Buffalo News [MORE]
This addition to Kraft’s well-received body of work (Passionate Spectator, etc.) serves as the premier installment of the Flying trilogy and features the ever-engaging Peter Leroy. Upon hearing rumors that his Long Island hometown is being turned into a theme park based on his childhood cross-country flight, Peter returns with his levelheaded wife, Albertine, and a “fearsome conscience” to set a few things straight. Peter fears the media will uncover the truth about his heroic, history-making, 4,000-mile round-trip solo flight to New Mexico when he was 15: that the “earthbound portions” of the flight made up most of the mission. Nostalgic, homespun backstory reveals Peter’s childhood, his early fascination with flight and the frenetic events leading up to the construction of the “aerocycle” (based on plans printed in The Impractical Craftsman). The “Birdboy of Babbington” attempts to right his wrong with a heartfelt, revised expedition, but trouble looms, as Albertine may or may not have been kidnapped by a group of flyboy emergency medical technicians in this installment’s closing pages. Kraft’s unpretentious and engrossing storytelling make for a pleasant, escapist read.
Publishers Weekly, May 1, 2006
Christine Perkins, Burlington P.L., WA, Library JournalProust gave the world “In Search of Lost Time.” Balzac enriched civilization with “The Human Comedy.” Eric Kraft bemuses and enthralls us with “The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy,” a series of funny, erudite and deliciously loony novels featuring a charmingly hapless, Long Island-born and -raised writer and the love of his life and guiding light, wise and wry Albertine. For readers fortunate enough to have already discovered Kraft’s scintillating and covertly philosophical tales, the latest installment, his 10th, is especially pleasing because it cycles back to Peter’s teenage years. This focus also makes “Taking Off” the perfect jumping-in book for readers new to Kraft’s vividly rendered and gleefully satirical fictional cosmos.
Kraft’s ongoing saga of Peter Leroy is laced with cleverly off-handed tributes to various cherished literary works matched by covertly incisive takes on human nature, in general, and the American character, in particular. As one might expect from his seriocomic alignment with Proust, Kraft’s great subjects are the nature of memory, the forging of the self, and love. And what better avenue into the heart of these classic themes than a hero’s return to his hometown on a mission to correct old fallacies.
You see, Peter has been living a lie. Way back when he was 15, he became the fair-haired boy of Babbington, Long Island, by allegedly flying solo to New Mexico, in a small airplane he constructed out of scrap metal and an old motorcycle in his family’s garage. The intrepid flyboy made banner headlines, and since then has endured wildly inaccurate accolades in numerous “anniversary recaps.” Now the “Birdboy of Babbington” intends to “set the record straight,” although, as he confesses in his preface, he hadn’t planned on revealing quite as much as he does in the uproarious tale that follows, illustrations included. And this is only the first novel in a promised trilogy about Peter’s aeronautical fiasco.
Here Kraft’s adept spoofing expands to embrace the old do- it-yourself culture, a lost aspect of American know-how now that all our gadgets are digital and built to break. Motivated by envy - a friend of Peter’s has won a coveted scholarship to the summer institute at the New Mexico College of Agriculture, Technology and Pharmacy - our young hero decides that he, too, must fly to the Land of Enchantment. Armed with plans from a madcap variation on the magazine Popular Mechanics titled Impractical Craftsman, and assisted mightily by family and friends, he succeeds in building an aerocycle, and he journeys to New Mexico and back. But he only flies his homemade plane the distance of about 200 feet.
Kraft makes wily use of the tried-and-true story-within-a-story structure. While he whisks the reader back in time, Peter and Albertine, now living in Manhattan, visit Babbington after a long absence and find it has been transformed into a cheesy theme-park version of the town circa 1956 when the Birdboy built his amazing flying machine. Peter and Albertine puzzle over this manifestation of cloying civic nostalgia and desperate bid for tourist dollars in a sly dissection of our society’s ability to commodify and hence desiccate anything of meaning, then find themselves navigating a sequence of revealing calamities and bittersweet recoveries.
Kraft is a judicious literary magpie, not only lifting bits from Proust and Balzac, but also from Mark Twain and Evelyn Waugh. And let us not neglect his riffs on the story of Daedalus and Icarus, or his hero’s mythic nocturnal junkyard quest for parts for his flying machine, a scene that evolves into a complexly evocative metaphor for forgotten memories awaiting reclamation in “the dark recesses of the majestic salvage and wrecking yard of the mind.” Because Kraft expresses an abiding faith in steadfast love and impossible dreams, because he uses humor to shape a humanistic ethos, and because he takes profound pleasure in the resonance of language and the magic of storytelling, reading Kraft’s inventive and effervescent tales is a rare and sustaining joy.
Donna Seaman, Newsday, July 16, 2006
Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times, July 21, 2006
Peter Leroy has come unstuck in time. Apologies to Kurt
Vonnegut for borrowing the famous opening line from Slaughterhouse Five,
Peter has a lot in common with Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut’s mystical protagonist.
Both of them are lost in time. Billy Pilgrim moves across the decades from
his sedate family life to his domelike home on another planet to his imprisonment
during World War II. The time shifts of Peter Leroy — the hero of Eric
Kraft’s new novel, Taking Off — aren’t as dramatic as Billy Pilgrim’s,
but he does walk that tenuous high wire between now and memory.
Imagine an All-American boy in an All-American town.
TAKING OFF | CONTENTS
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Copyright © 2006 by Eric Kraft
Taking Off 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 book 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.
St. Martin’s Press will publish Taking Off in the summer of 2006.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail Kraft’s indefatigable agent, Alec “Nick” Rafter.
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.