A review of Taking Off by Eric Kraft

 

The seriousness and complexity of Kraft’s novels varies. Taking Off has a modest scope compared to Leaving Small’s Hotel or Reservations Recommended, but each book by Kraft has a consistency of its own that is enjoyable on its own merits and is enhanced by its place within the body of his works. 

Reviewed by Bob Williams

Taking Off
by Eric Kraft
St. Martin’s Press
2006, ISBN 0-312-31884-7, $23.95, 205 pages

Kraft’s hero is Peter Leroy and his world is contained under the group name of The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences, and Observations of Peter Leroy. The group contains one book of short stories and nine novels with a tenth one in progress.

Peter Leroy was born and grew up in Babbington, New York, a small town on the South Shore of Long Island. The town was not very rich in anything except clams. These were found in Bolotomy Bay, Bolotomy being a light scrambling of lobotomy to indicate perhaps the placid character of the community. From this sleepy town Peter, fifteen, flies a homemade airplane – more properly, an aerocycle since a motorcycle entered prominently into its construction – from Babbington to New Mexico.

The narrative trail is less important than the persons who stand about the young Peter and his ambitious project. Some of them – Spike, Matthew Barber, Marvin, Raskol, Patti, and Peter’s parents – are familiar to readers of the other books by Kraft, but Mr. MacPherson is new and fun, a slightly loony teacher, demoniacally Socratic, and exercised over the meaning of words as they appear in commonplace expressions that everyone uses but no one else questions.

In addition to these figures from the past, Peter, the mature narrator of his boyhood, deals with his life as he struggles to set down his memories. He has the assistance of Albertine, his wife. She understands him better than he often enjoys and has surprises of her own that keep him involved and sometimes on edge. Her fictitious name is no accident. Kraft was apparently submerged since birth in the works of Proust and his own fiction can be seen as a lighthearted continuation of Proust’s methods and preoccupations. Kraft’s recollective pastry is not the tea-soaked madeleine of the master, it is a zwieback covered with cat hair. (A quaint inside joke is that Kraft’s wife’s name is Madeleine.)

The flight from Babbington to New Mexico is picked up from a mention at the end of Inflating a Dog but this interrelation of the books need not discourage a new reader. All Kraft’s works are self-contained. I was amused to see at the end of Taking Off the phrase “to be continued.” This occurs at the end of Little Follies. Kraft’s publisher didn’t like it and Kraft discontinued it at the publisher’s request, but now it is back to some purpose since Taking Off is the first work in a trilogy. One becomes frankly a little dizzy at the thought of three works that are interconnected in a body of work that is already interconnected. The novel now in progress is not part of the trilogy so readers of Taking Off must be patient for its continuation.

The seriousness and complexity of Kraft’s novels varies. Taking Off has a modest scope compared to Leaving Small’s Hotel or Reservations Recommended, but each book by Kraft has a consistency of its own that is enjoyable on its own merits and is enhanced by its place within the body of his works. Highly recommended.

About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His writings, two books and a number of short articles on Joyce, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places

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