What a Piece of Work I Am (A Confabulation)
by Eric Kraft, as Peter Leroy
A Brief Description from the Publisher

Meet Ariane Lodkochnikov: clam-bar waitress, avant-garde actress, 1950s small-town bad girl, causeless rebel, boyhood crush, and ideal figment of the imagination of Peter Leroy. Peter is the engaging narrator of this novel; Ariane is the unreliable narrator of her own life. With Peter listening raptly, she weaves a tale of voyages—some erotic, some poignant, some hilariously disastrous, all leading her back to the seaside town of Babbington.

Eric Kraft’s novels featuring Peter Leroy offer more than meets the eye, and What a Piece of Work I Am is a treasure trove for readers: a woman’s quest to escape her reputation, an echo-chamber of myth, and a fascinating meditation on the human urge to tell and hear stories. 

Paperback Cover

Very Brief Excerpts from Reviews

Poignant, dizzying . . . a lip-smacking conceit . . . a heroine as complex as the narrative.
Karen Karbo, The New York Times Book Review

Kraft cooks up another treat..
Timothy Hunter, Cleveland Plain Dealer

A prism of overlapping narrative frames.
Publishers Weekly

A wild, fascinating tale.
Mark Ciabattari, Washington Post Book World

Conveys a sense of sheer play.
The New Yorker

It is easy to enter the spirit of oddly persuasive illusion.
Michael Upchurch, San Francisco Chronicle

Sometimes real, sometimes imaginary, and always diverting.
Mark Munroe Dion, Kansas City Star

We are—as we have come to expect from Eric Kraft—in the hands of a master.
Michael Z. Jody, The East Hampton Star

One of the most engaging creations to emerge from Kraft's imagination.
Nicholas A. Basbanes, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette

A flight of deeply imagined fancy.
Double Dealer Redux (Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society, New Orleans) 

Joyful and chastening . . . playful . . . like a mirror held to a mirror.
Frederic Koeppel, Memphis Commercial Appeal



Not-So-Brief Excerpts from Reviews

In the preface to his poignant, dizzying new novel . . . Eric Kraft—writing as his favorite character, Peter Leroy -- explains that what follows is the life story of Ariane Lodkochnikov, the sultry older sister of Peter's imaginary boyhood friend Raskol. . . . Thus the imaginary sister of the imaginary friend survives an imaginary fire in order to confess the secrets of growing up female in postwar Babbington, L. I. . . . All this is revealed in an extended conversation between Ariane and the narrator. It's a lip-smacking conceit: Ariane tries to confess the bare facts of her life while Peter, romantic and puppy-doggish, compulsively gilds them. This, of course, is the core of Ariane's problem. Men have imagined her so often that she can't seem to locate the self in herself. . . . In his latest novel, Mr. Kraft has created a heroine as complex as his narrative. . . . [he] is a master at illuminating the shoals and shallows of a young person's heart. . . . 
   Mr. Kraft's work is a weird wonder, successfully mating tales from the kind of small-town life that hardly exists anymore with a never-ending examination of what it's like to create such a world. His preoccupation with the homely lives of the citizens of Babbington is adroitly offset by his passion for the story of telling the story . . . . In an age when computer technology is on the verge of unleashing the all-singing, all-dancing novel, Eric Kraft's true theme, the awesome power of the low-tech human imagination, has never seemed so timely or so wise. 
   Karen Karbo, The New York Times Book Review (April 17, 1994) 

Eric Kraft cooks up another treat. . . . [He] continues his delightful and brainy series of novels about the engaging denizens of the fictional Long Island clamming town of Babbington. . . . 
   Peter Leroy . . . makes a return appearance, though his role is ostensibly limited to listening to his wonderfully realized but completely imaginary first love, Ariane Lodkochnikov, as she tells beguiling tales about her life. . . . 
   Lodkochnikov's voice is as fetching as can be, by turns tough and wistful. Like mythology, her vibrant stories show human beings at their worst, their best, and their most fragile. And they yield more than a few bits of wisdom. 
   Above all, Kraft's new novel celebrates the joy of storytelling while gently probing the psyches of those who feel the need to create stories." 
   Timothy Hunter, Cleveland Plain Dealer (April 3, 1994) 

This new chapter in Kraft's Peter Leroy series, set in post WWII Babbington, Long Island, is a mazy, metafictional tale centered around Leroy's imaginary adolescent crush, the sultry, elusive, and histrionic Ariane 'Tootsie' Lodkochnikov. . . . Leroy's story is a prism of overlapping narrative frames, including a preface in which he celebrates the powers of wishful thinking and recounts how he dreamt Ariane up . . . Leroy delights in revising his narrative, often reaching an impasse (in one version, Ariane dies in a fire), then backing out and taking a different, sometimes bewildering turn . . . fans will . . . enjoy the playful vitality with which he brings into being the fanciful characters of his imaginative east coast community. 
   Publishers Weekly (April 19, 1994) 

Novelist Eric Kraft's niche in contemporary literature might well be as a sunny, upbeat American version of the Argentine fabulist Jorge Luis Borges. 
   Like the latter's magical realism, Kraft's writing focuses on personal identity as an ephemeral, ever-changing construct, and this theme underlies his ongoing, major life's work, The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy, now consisting of five independent yet related novels . . . . His newest novel centers on the sultry Ariane, who had been the town bad girl in the 1950s. Baring the sexual secrets and bizarre events of her past to Peter . . . [she] pieces together a wild, fascinating tale based on her erotic history. . . . A rebel before her time, questing, daring yet bumbling in the back seats of guys' cars, fearless to the point of foolishness, she remains resilient enough to pursue a twisting life's odyssey that demonstrates her growing sophistication in matters of love and sex. 
   Peter tells Ariane's as a story within a Chinese box of stories -- for instance, their many chats begin after Peter learns that Ariane 'really' died when her house burned down. Wishing to give her the chance to have the life he thinks she deserves, he wills her back to life. . . . Borges-style, Peter lays bare the scaffolding on which he bases his tale. 
   As he helps her give a shape to her past, the wry, observant Peter evolves his own fable of Ariane. In this complex mirroring of two sides of an evolving identity, what the masterful tale teller Kraft does is show that, while Ariane may not exist materially, it is enough that she exists in Peter's imagination 'at a crossroads in a labyrinth of tales.' 
   Mark Ciabattari, Washington Post Book World (April 24, 1994) 

Ariane Lodkochnikov is practically a walking sex fantasy -- her nickname is Tootsie Koochikov, and she is so alluring that even her dopey brothers spy on her through chinks in the bedroom wall. But when she realizes that she is also the Babbington, Long Island, town slut she sets out to remake herself. She begins at a local big-money tourist motel. Disillusioned, however, with what seemed a conventional route to at least material improvement, she moves on, finding the devotion of an elderly neighbor for his dying wife about the highest thing life has to offer. Her fate is to be a modern-day Ariadne, though, which means that almost any path she tries is a dead end or loops back to where she started. That should be frustrating to the reader, but it's when we come upon new versions of what we've seen before that the novel is most droll and delighting. It conveys a sense of sheer play that a reader may not have experienced since building a fort in the back yard or setting up a dolls' tea party. 
   The New Yorker (May 9, 1994) 

Mere superlatives, apparently, are not enough. On the strength of the praise he has gotten from fans such as Armistead Maupin, Andrei Codrescu and an army of book reviewers, comic novelist Eric Kraft ought to be a household name by now. His fictional universe, centered in Babbington, Long Island ("clam capital of America"), is a delightful, Kodachrome-bright concoction of 1950s Americana as seen through the eyes of his obsessive memoirist, Peter Leroy. . . . 
   The focus this time is Ariane Lodkochnikov, the older sister of Peter's imaginary best friend. 'In so very many ways,' Peter explains, 'she made me what I am today, even though I made her up.' . . . 
   Throughout her life story, Peter Leroy serves as listener and commentator, amplifying her thoughts and eagerly sympathazing with even her most outrageous behavior. Although Kraft's intricate ruminations on the origin and nature of personality threaten sometimes to overwhelm his characters, his investigation of the role that performance plays in finding one's true self can be arresting. 
   The same is true of his obsession wth the intersection of reality and artifice. Harold Arlen's 'It's Only a Paper Moon' -- with its line 'It wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me' -- could easily serve as Kraft's signature tune. He alludes to the song late in Ariane's story, and it captures perfectly the spirit of his fiction. 
   Except in a few episodes involving members of the cult that springs up around Ariane in her actress phase, it is easy to enter the spirit of oddly persuasive illusion that permeates What a Piece of Work I Am. The fantasy sea voyage is especially poignant -- and typically Kraftian. . . . 
   The good news is that all of Kraft's works will be out in paperback from St. Martin's next year [i. e., in 1995 --ed.]. Maybe this year's cult author will be next year's publishing phenomenon. Few writers could deserve it more. 
   Michael Upchurch, San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday, May 29, 1994) 

A story of travels that are sometimes real, sometimes imaginary, and always diverting. Kraft's gift is for minute observation, the depiction of small events and the metaphors to be found in things like clam chowder. Reading Kraft takes work, but it is work well rewarded.
   Mark Munroe Dion, Kansas City Star (May 6, 1994) 

The Peter Leroy stories and novels of Eric Kraft are among the most ingenious works of recent fiction. They are this fine writer's way of using fiction to deal with that age-old dilemma of art, the links between illusion and reality. In his new novel, Kraft has gone further down this road than before. Reading it is something like watching a play within a play -- a very good play within a play that may be better than the larger play itself. 
   What a Piece of Work I Am is very good, more complex and ambitious than anything Kraft has attempted yet. It is a book that succeeds at two levels. It explores the delicate boundary between life and make believe. Yet it is also a straightforward tale of a woman trying to break away from the trap that society and her own inertia . . . set for her. It is a story of the past, set largely during the 1950s. At the same time, it is quite modern, in the same vein that such writers as Philip Roth and Martin Amis have used to place a filter on reality. . . . Kraft's techniques are sly indeed. He satirizes artistic pretentiousness, while, at the same time, obviously enjoying what he satirizes. The delicate line between art and truth has never been more entertainingly explored
   Roger Harris, The Newark Star Ledger (July 10, 1994) 

Reality, in Eric Kraft's fifth novel, sometimes seems as slippery and difficult to grasp as a jellyfish in baby oil. 
   Like a nimble child playing hopscotch, Peter Leroy, the present-day narrator of this confabulation, delights in hopping back and forth across the borders of truth, being, memory, meaning, and existence -- asking, and often answering, provocative questions about the nature of being and becoming, and about how we construct ourselves (literally make something of ourselves) over the course of our lives. . . . 
   Mr. Kraft is aiming high here, compelling his characters and his readers to struggle and grapple with preconceived notions about reality and fiction and truth and their relationship to how we become ourselves. It is well worth the effort, though, because we are -- as we have come to expect from Eric Kraft -- in the hands of a master
   Michael Z. Jody, The East Hampton Star (August 4, 1994) 

What a Piece of Work I Am . . . offers the reminiscences of Ariane Lodkochnikov, a one-time clam bar waitress who is able, through the compassionate intervention of Peter Leroy, to re-invent her life. 
   She becomes, in the process, one of the most engaging creations to emerge from Kraft's imagination.
   Nicholas A. Basbanes, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette (May 11, 1994) 

A modern fable, this flight of deeply imagined fancy deals in artifice, the rights to our own life stories and the making of them, indeed the making of ourselves. In rapid succession, a series of people try to take away from Ariane Lodkochnikov her right of self-creation. Her triumph over treachery is her ultimate work of art. 
   Double Dealer Redux (Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society, New Orleans) 

A joyful and chastening novel in which Ariane Lodkochnikov, called Tootsie Koochikov in school, attempts to rise above her station, her reputation and her small-town life by way of the avant-garde theater; or is it theater, and does Kraft's habitually naive hero Peter Leroy know where life ends and theater begins? He—and we—know one thing; we're all crazy about Tootsie Koochikov, who defines the concept of a dish, a game chick, a blessing. . . . One reacts to the novel on a personal level, delighting in the concreteness of its complexities, the evanescence of its construction and in the playful purposefulness of its prose. Like a mirror held to a mirror, the novel allows us an oblique glimpse of ourselves reflected a thousand times at the oddest angle. 
   Frederic Koeppel, Memphis Commercial Appeal 



What a Piece of Work I Am is published in paperback by Picador, a division of St. Martin’s Press, at $11.00. 

You should be able to find What a Piece of Work I Amat your local bookstore, but you can also order it by phone from: 

Bookbound at 1-800-959-7323 
Book Call at 1-800-255-2665 (worldwide 1-203-966-5470) 
You can order it on the Web from Amazon.com Books

Libros en Español: What a Piece of Work I Am is also available in Spanish from Ediciones Destino

Paperback Cover
Copyright © 1994 by Eric Kraft

What Piece of Work I Am 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 publisher. 

First published by Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022. Member of the Crown Publishing Group. 

Now available in paperback from Picador USA, a division of St. Martin's Press. 

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