Welcome to the serialization of The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy.
I’m glad you’re here!
The Personal History is one large work of fiction composed of many interconnected parts. Its parts are the memoirs and collected works of a fictional character, Peter Leroy, who tells an alternative version of his life story; explores the effect of imagination on perception, memory, hope, and fear; holds a fun-house mirror to scenes of life in the United States; ruminates upon the nature of the universe and the role of human consciousness within it; and searches the painful world of time and place to find the niches where hilarity hides.
I’m making the entire Personal History available online for free—the whole thing, all twelve volumes, in installments, a feast in small bites. I wrote it to be read, and I’m hoping that Substack can help it “find its audience.”
You will start receiving updates right here in your inbox. You can also log in to the website to read the full archives and other posts as they are published. The archives ensure that you don’t have to feel “late to the party.” You can always catch up.
You can begin reading at the beginning or you can catch up by visiting the archive or consulting the index to the Topical Guide. The Substack serialization of Little Follies begins here; Herb ’n’ Lorna begins here; Reservations Recommended begins here; Where Do You Stop? begins here; What a Piece of Work I Am begins here.
You can listen to the episodes on the Personal History podcast. Begin at the beginning or scroll through the episodes to find what you’ve missed. The Substack podcast reading of Little Follies begins here; Herb ’n’ Lorna begins here; Reservations Recommended begins here; Where Do You Stop? begins here; What a Piece of Work I Am begins here.
You can ensure that you never miss a future issue by getting a free subscription. (You can help support the work by choosing a paid subscription instead.)
You’ll find overviews of the entire work in An Introduction to The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy (a pdf document), The Origin Story (here on substack), Between the Lines (a video, here on Substack), and at Encyclopedia.com.
I hope that you’ll enjoy reading—or re-reading—or listening to the Personal History.
Before you go, might enjoy the Personal History theme song: “Indian Summer,” performed by Sidney Bechet:
The Personal History consists, so far, of twelve volumes:
. . . containing the novellas My Mother Takes a Tumble, Do Clams Bite?, Life on the Bolotomy, The Static of the Spheres, The Fox and the Clam, The Girl with the White Fur Muff, Take the Long Way Home, Call Me Larry, and The Young Tars, in which Peter Leroy explores his earliest memory; probes the causes of his childhood pelecypodophobia (fear of bivalve mollusks); navigates the Bolotomy River; builds a radio receiver; ponders the differences between dour foxes and happy clams; falls in love; takes the long way home; becomes a fan of the Larry Peters adventure series; and rises to the rank of Aluminum Commodore in the Young Tars.
“It generates its own reality, and it’s profoundly funny.” David Chute, The Los Angeles Times
“Tiny and enormous, full of mystery and wonder.” Robert Plunket, The New York Times Book Review
“Wonderfully touching and mythic.” John Stark Bellamy II Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Strikingly new.” Walter Kendrick, The Village Voice
“An ingenious investigation of the way we build our myths.” Julie Salamon, The Wall Street Journal
“Clever, anecdotal, suspenseful, and funny.” Anna Shapiro, The New Yorker
“A triumph.” Robert Crampton, The Times (London)
Herb ’n’ Lorna
. . . in which Peter Leroy investigates and reconstructs the life stories of his maternal grandparents, Herb and Lorna Piper, a cuddly couple who invented the animated erotic jewelry business.
“The novel is all about sex, and sex, in Herb 'n' Lorna, means everything in life that is good — craft and art and imagination and hard work and humor and friendship and skill and curiosity and loyalty and love.” Cathleen Schine The New York Times Book Review
“A beautiful book.” Marc Munroe Dion, The Kansas City Star
“A wonderful love story.” Lisa Jensen, San Francisco Chronicle
“Funny, raunchy, and clever.” Justin Kaplan
“Nothing short of brilliant.” Armistead Maupin
“A funny, sexy story told with consummate skill.” Malcolm Jones, Jr. The St. Petersburg Times
“There aren’t enough adjectives to praise this delightfully generous storyteller. Herb ’n’ Lorna is a classic. Savor it.” Andrei Codrescu, National Public Radio
“Kraft es, en mi opinion, un maestro.” Robert Saladrigas La Vanguardia (Barcelona)
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
. . . in which Peter Leroy constructs a plausible adult life for his grade school chum Matthew Barber, now living in Boston, where he is vice-president of a toy company by day and Bertram W. Beath, restaurant reviewer, by night.
“A brilliant satire.” LA Life
“Shrewd, adroit, and spirited.” Donna Seaman, Booklist
“A moving urban fable.” Roger Harris, Newark Star Ledger
“A merciless sendup of contemporary American pretensions.’ Janice Harayda, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Wonderfully readable . . . touching and intelligent.” Richard Gehr, The Village Voice
“Hilariously on the mark.” Robert Nadeau, The Boston Phoenix
“A psychosexual ‘tour de farce.’” Forrest Rogers The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
“Classy and funny.” Edna Stumpf, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“I recommend this novel without reservations.” Los Angeles Times
“Seria, . . . divertida, trascendente y hermosa.” Robert Saladrigas La Vanguardia (Barcelona)
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Where Do You Stop?
. . . in which Peter Leroy finally completes a junior-high-school science assignment, thirty years late, exploring quantum physics, entropy, epistemology, principles of uncertainty and discontinuity, a range of life’s Big Questions, and his memories of his intoxicating science teacher, Miss Rheingold.
“The title of this sly and extremely funny book is also the title of a paper that Peter is assigned by his science teacher, the luscious, leggy Miss Rheingold. We — and Peter — learn quite a bit about Miss Rheingold, although nowhere near as much as Peter would like. We also learn about epistemology; the boundaries of the self; the building of backyard lighthouses; terrazzo floors; Chinese Checkers; American education; the restricted vision of children (and their parents); and the design of such exquisitely intricate gadgets as the phonograph, the scanning tunneling microscope, the universe, and the novel. . . . Like childhood itself, Where Do You Stop? is filled with wonders. It is a book designed to leave its readers — and it deserves many of them — as happy as clams.” Walter Satterthwaite The New York Times Book Review
“Luminously intelligent fun.” Time
“Nothing less than an attempt to comprehend the nature of the universe itself.” Michael Upchurch The Seattle Times & Post-Intelligencer
“Hilarious.” Bruce Allen, USA TODAY
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
What a Piece of Work I Am
. . . in which Peter Leroy, working on the principle of the panopticon, constructs a plausible life for Ariane Lodkochnikov, the sultry older sister of his imaginary childhood friend, maker of her own self and her own myth.
“Poignant. Dizzying. Wise. 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. [His] 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.” Karen Karbo The New York Times Book Review
“Beguiling. Vibrant. Kraft cooks up another treat.” Timothy Hunter, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Complex. Ambitious. 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 have set for her. The delicate line between art and truth has never been more entertainingly explored.” Roger Harris, Newark Star-Ledger
“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
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
At Home with the Glynns
. . . in which Peter Leroy receives his sexual initiation at the hands of the Glynn twins, becomes a sketch doctor, listens to tales about the night the Nevsky mansion burned, learns the value of hope, and discovers the love of his life.
“Peter Leroy’s preadolescent voice, recaptured years later by his fictive middle-aged persona, is always unerringly itself, at once unexpectedly articulate and believably childlike. It is a likable voice, ingenuous, modest, wholly engaging. As such, it earns the most fanciful events in his story a certain credibility, or at least an unresisting suspension of disbelief. We are disposed to accept whatever Mr. Kraft, in the guise of Peter Leroy, tells us, even as he confesses to mixing invention with memory, even as events become more and more whimsically improbable. . . . A daring tour de force, At Home with the Glynns . . . never loses its poise. Mr. Kraft’s cunning novel is really a children’s book (like, say, The Catcher in the Rye) for adults, which I mean as unequivocal praise. There is nothing more serious, after all, than the playful, given full play.” Jonathan Baumbach The New York Times Book Review
“A witty and wildly digressive epistemological examination in the form of a childhood reminiscence.” The New Yorker
“Anyone who has mourned, or yearned for, his or her younger self will find Kraft an enchantment.” Publishers Weekly
“One of the more hilariously erotic pieces of writing since Lolita.” Edward Hannibal, The East Hampton Star
Leaving Small’s Hotel
. . . in which Peter Leroy reads the latest installment of his memoirs in fifty consecutive episodes, culminating on the night of his fiftieth birthday, while his wife, Albertine, tries to stop the old hotel they own from crumbling slowly around them.
“A compact comic Decameron, a deadpan fantasia . . . one of the most delightful novels of the decade.” Kirkus Reviews
“With his customary elegance, Kraft has written a coda to the utopian impulses that lurk in the heart of our century.” Publishers Weekly
“Kraft’s take on the national experience is thoughtful, disturbing, and unlike that of any other American writer.” Anthony Brandt, Men’s Journal
“Kraft’s imagination, like [Peter] Leroy’s, is endlessly fertile, not merely in its creations but in its connections, as well, so that each apparently innocent anecdote chimes with Kraft’s broader theme of the imagined life, of its thrilling, enhancing, and ultimately dangerous connection to the real.” Claire Messud, Newsday
“The belief has long been held here that Eric Kraft is one of our best writers, and Leaving Small’s Hotel reinforces it.” Roger Harris, Newark Star-Ledger
“A wonderful matryoshka of a novel . . . with just the sort of spectacular intricacy that makes a business fail and a
novel fly.” The New Yorker
Inflating a Dog
. . . in which Peter Leroy tries to help his mother in a scheme to re-invent a sinking clamboat as an elegant cruising vessel. Each night he sneaks to the harbor and pumps the boat dry, inflating his mother’s hopes a bit longer.
“[A] bittersweet tale of adolescence recollected in tranquility. . . . Glorious stuff.” Kirkus Reviews
“Raucous, wise, and great fun, this is simply not to be missed.” Nancy Pearl, Booklist
“The reader feels flattered and privileged to be invited to join Kraft’s remarkable, ongoing dance of time and memory.” Richard Gehr, Newsday
“A hilarious riff on Don Quixote, on the desire for fame, the need for success, the power of fantasy.” Barbara Fisher, Boston Globe
“Provocative, poignant and deeply satisfying . . . especially in lyrical passages that epitomize the secret dreams and yearnings of a soul in the making, a fool for beauty.” Frederic Koeppel Memphis Commercial Appeal
“Fascinating and sophisticated.” Jennifer Reese The New York Times Book Review
“The best description of sex appeal anywhere, ever.” Peter Jon Shuler
. . . in which Peter Leroy, summoned for jury duty, allows his mind to wander into the mind of Matthew Barber, who finds himself in a Boston hospital, where he allows his mind to wander into the mind of Bertram W. Beath, who checks into a hotel in Miami’s South Beach and into a life as an erotic opportunist and passionate spectator of beauty and human folly.
“Middle age, mortality, and the meaning of life: all examined with the lightest touch imaginable. Kirkus Reviews
“Ebullient, canny, and entertaining.” Donna Seaman, Booklist
“As devious as a Möbius strip, turning in on itself, doubling back through events that have already occurred, and generally subverting our Newtonian world view.” David Kirby, St. Petersburg Times
“A personal journey that is mundane in detail yet mythic in scope . . . a gamboling reflection on the ways in which memory shapes supposedly objective history . . . colorful, incisive prose and off-kilter wit.” Steve Smith, Time Out New York
Nothing less than an assessment of each person’s place in the universe . . . as a spectator who gives shape to life simply by watching and remembering.” Jim Ridley, Nashville Scene
When Peter Leroy buys a copy of Creative Self-Promotion for Taxidermists from a street bum, he unwittingly sets in motion an odyssey from truth to fiction to truth in a novel that is much less confusing and more revealing than these few words might indicate.” Dallas Morning News
. . . in which Peter Leroy sets out to give a full and frank account of his legendary flight from Babbington to New Mexico in a single-seat airplane that he built in the family garage during the summer of his fifteenth year—a flight that consisted mainly of taxiing.
“The perfect jumping-in book for readers new to Kraft’s vividly rendered and gleefully satirical fictional cosmos.” Newsday
One of the Ten Best Fiction Books of 2009 The Barnes & Noble Review
“A reminder of how entertaining a novel can be when it slips the surly bonds of realism. . . . The effect is like a happy-go-lucky Nabokov, with all the road-tripping wordplay and none of the incest. . . . Kraft's affectionately satirical, buoyant language makes Flying soar.” Radhika Jones, Time
“Flying is an ingenious, at times dizzyingly self-inverting assault not only on the truth, but on the concoction of palatable fictions, as well. Its only inviolate god is the human imagination; it’s a paean to flight by a boy who never left the ground, except, perhaps, where it counts most: in his mind.” Laura Miller The New York Times Book Review
“Eric Kraft is an oddball, an eccentric, a bit of a genius — the writerly equivalent of a dreamer who puts together weird and wonderful contraptions in his garage. . . . Kraft has made his career out of high-wire performance, seizing on the merest hint or detail and spinning it into magic. . . . Flying . . . feels like Kraft’s grandest achievement since Herb ’n’ Lorna.” Richard Rayner, The Los Angeles Times
A Note from Candi Lee Manning, my bubbly publicist:
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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.
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