The past is recaptured in accents ruefully funny enough to turn Marcel Proust into Jacques Tati, in the latest Chronicle of Peter Leroy.
It’s a dual narrative, in which middle-aged Peter (who now lives in Manhattan with his unflappable wife Albertine) is recalled to his hometown of Babbington, Long Island to set the record straight regarding his celebrated flight (as the teenaged “Birdboy of Babbington”) to New Mexico, in a homemade “aerocycle” built in his family’s garage. The years have elevated Peter’s daring feat to the status of local legend. The truth is sadly more mundane (“My longest sustained period of flight might have covered six feet. For the rest of the outbound trip, I was on the ground, ‘taxiing’ ”). As Peter recalls events preceding and complicating this venture, Kraft deftly juxtaposes past and present, subjecting any possible grandiosity on Peter’s part to Albertine’s irreverent wit. (She isn’t at her best here, but does manage to become hospitalized following a “dogboarding” accident.) The narrative sputters, as Kraft indulges his penchant for (and, to be fair, mastery of) the art of digression, treating us to meditations on the nature of memory and the affliction of “antinostalgia” (the overwhelming urge to be somewhere else), principles of aerodynamics as (almost) explained in the popular magazine “Impractical Craftsman,” Peter’s developing relationship with his sometimes unreadable father (“the Grand Naysayer”) and the nonscience of “pataphysics,” as articulated by waggish French surrealist author Alfred Jarry. This first volume in a planned trilogy) improves as it moseys along, culminating in Albertine’s benevolent abduction by admiring “flyguys” (airborne EMTs) and the imminent voyage of the unconventional aircraft (inevitably) dubbed “The Spirit of Babbington.”
Still, only sporadically equal to the best of the Chronicles. But if you’re a Peter Leroy completist, don’t even think of missing it.