If Jack Kerouac had had a sense of humor, he’d have left Dean Moriarty in the drunk tank and hit the road with Kraft’s irresistible alter ego Peter Leroy.
This deliciously engaging trip of a book continues the whopper of a story begun with Taking Off (2006). That was the account of Babbington, Long Island’s own Tom Swift: 14-year-old Peter, as he attempted to “pilot” his homemade “aerocycle,” The Spirit of Babbington, all the way to New Mexico (albeit mostly via “taxiing” just above the ground). In this sequel, set at the time of the original “flight” and 40-some years later, Kraft offers two richly entertaining, if unequally brilliant, juxtaposed narratives. One details the adolescent’s cross-country adventure, during which Peter fends off cops who suspect he’s a Martian, falls for one buxom blonde waitress after another, enjoys aid and comfort proffered by his soul mates the MDMC (Muddleheaded Dreamers’ Motorcycle Club) and holds fervent conversations with Spirit (i.e., the soul of his jerrybuilt conveyance). Alas, Spirit is no match for the older Peter’s splendid spouse Albertine, who accompanies and leads him by the nose everywhere, radiating a no-nonsense attitude that makes us think of Myrna Loy, Kate Hepburn and a kinder, gentler Dorothy Parker. Only Peter the elder and Albertine—who are retracing his young self’s adventurous path—would stumble upon one town that worships marshmallows and another that calls itself a museum and charges admission to enter city limits, as well as check into a motel just behind a couple who identify themselves as Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Attempting a structural analysis of this sublime tomfoolery would turn your brain to fettuccini, but who cares? As its brilliant final page demonstrates, it really is the journey, not the arrival, that matters.
“The world owes a lot to muddleheaded dreamers,” we’re assured. Yes, but nowhere near as much as rib-tickled readers owe to the indispensable Kraft.