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.
From the ruins and the dissolution of real reality something very different will emerge, not a copy but an answer: fictional reality.
Mario Vargas Llosa, The Perpetual Orgy: Flaubert and Madame Bovary
I’m making the entire Personal History available online for free—the whole thing, all twelve volumes, in brief episodes, “a feast in small bites” in the opinion of Lee Grove, writing in Boston Magazine. I wrote it to be read, and I’m hoping that Substack can help it “find its audience.”
I’m also adding a paid subscription option that gives you the opportunity to support the writing of the work.
You will start receiving updates right here in your inbox. You can also log in to the website to read the posts as they are published and to return to posts that you may have missed.
I hope you’ll enjoy reading—or re-reading—the Personal History.
Before you begin Episode 1, you might enjoy the Personal History theme song: “Indian Summer” written by Victor Herbert, recorded in New York City on February 5, 1940, performed by Sidney Bechet, clarinet and soprano sax; Sonny White, piano; Charlie Howard, guitar; Wilson Myers, bass; and Kenny Clarke, drums:
The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy (so far)
LITTLE FOLLIES in which Peter 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. “A masterpiece of American humor.” Los Angeles Times
HERB ’N’ LORNA in which Peter investigates and reconstructs the life stories of his maternal grandparents, Herb and Lorna Piper, a cuddly couple who invented the animated erotic jewelry business. “A classic. Savor it.” Andrei Codrescu, NPR
RESERVATIONS RECOMMENDED in which Peter 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. “Brilliant.” LA Life
WHERE DO YOU STOP? in which Peter 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. “Luminously intelligent fun.” Time
WHAT A PIECE OF WORK I AM in which Peter, 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. “Conveys a sense of sheer play.” The New Yorker
AT HOME WITH THE GLYNNS in which Peter 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. “A daring tour de force.” The New York Times Book Review
LEAVING SMALL’S HOTEL in which Peter 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. “One of the most delightful novels of the decade.” Kirkus Reviews
INFLATING A DOG in which Peter 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. “Sentimental, loving, raucous, wise, and great fun.” Booklist
PASSIONATE SPECTATOR in which Peter, 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. “Incisive prose and off-kilter wit.” Steve Smith, Time Out New York
FLYING in which Peter 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
ALBERTINE’S OVERCOAT in which Peter discovers that Albertine Gaudet makes a far better center for his life than he does himself, and begins one of literature’s great romances. “It was wonderful to immerse myself again in Peter’s world, and to emerge blinking as if just awakened, delighted, beguiled.” George Witte
“Eric Kraft has spent his writing career creating a series of comic masterpieces. . . . and am I ever glad he did. . . . The books can be read in any order, but be warned: Once you start the series, you won’t want to read anything else until you finish them all.”
Nancy Pearl, Book Lust
“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.”
Richard Rayner, The Los Angeles Times
“Kraft’s imagination, like 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
“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
“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
“The cumulative effect of Kraft’s work is of a sober humor that refuses easy answers. . . . This is crafty work indeed and certain to endure when more pretentious and more touted writers are forgotten.”
Bob Williams, The Compulsive Reader
“Reading the Peter Leroy saga is akin to watching a champion juggler deftly keep dozens of balls in the air while executing an intricate double-time dance routine—all without breathing hard. . . . Sentimental, loving, raucous, wise, and great fun, this is simply not to be missed.”
“Perhaps the most ambitious and rewarding literary enterprise of our time. . . . Even when you find yourself laughing aloud, it would be a mistake to take Eric Kraft lightly.”
Andrew Ervin, The San Francisco Chronicle
“The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy is one of the biggest, funniest, sweetest, and looniest undertakings in contemporary American fiction.”
John Strausbaugh, New York Press
“Eric Kraft’s essential subject is suburban boyhood—in particular, that moment when it loses its innocence. . . . Like Laurence Sterne, Kraft is unashamedly sentimental, digressive, and extremely funny; like Proust, profoundly nostalgic and obsessed with loss. The typical Kraft novel is a laugh-out-loud read with undertones of grief and ruefulness. Almost all of his books revolve around a single individual, Peter Leroy, who is now . . . as fully realized as any character in current American literature. . . . Under the surface humor, Kraft’s take on the national experience is thoughtful, disturbing, and unlike that of any other American writer.”
Anthony Brandt, Men’s Journal
“One of the cleverest and most charming literary enterprises in recent American fiction.”
Mahinder Kingra, The City Paper (Baltimore)
“Is there a more beguiling writer today than Eric Kraft?”
“This series is smart, funny, warmly inviting, and delightfully impossible to define.”
Kate Bernheimer, The Oregonian
“Anyone who has mourned, or yearned for, his or her younger self will find Kraft an enchantment.”
“An ever-evolving comic masterpiece. Beneath the dazzling comic antics, Kraft has a serious purpose: to investigate the nature and interaction of memory, reality, and invention.”
Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times
“Charming but never sappy, droll but never cynical, Peter Leroy’s adventures constitute one of our wittiest and most acute portraits of America at mid-century. In the bargain, they are the literary equivalent of Fred Astaire dancing: great art that looks like fun.”
Malcolm Jones, Jr., Newsweek
“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.”
Roger Harris, The Newark Star Ledger
“You should seek out and read the books of Eric Kraft. . . . His books are simultaneously sincere explorations of the lives of his characters and ironic commentaries on those lives. . . . Kraft’s books contain the kind of humor that can only come out of a deep love and understanding of the people he writes about. Too much reverence can slip and become patronizing, phony. Kraft’s books are totally weird and made up, but they’re never phony.”
John Warner, The Chicago Tribune
You can listen to this episode on the Personal History podcast.