“A reminder of how entertaining a novel can be when it slips the surly bonds of realism. . . . Kraft’s affectionately satirical, buoyant language makes Flying soar. ”
Radhika Jones, TIME
Cover image: Viktor Vasnetsov, Flying Carpet (1919-1926, detail)
“One of the Ten Best Fiction Books of 2009”
The Barnes and Noble Review
Listen to Kraft discussing Flying with Leonard Lopate on WNYC (15 minutes).
“Beneath its aw-shucks surface, 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
MY FRENCH TEACHER, Angus MacPherson, must have noticed the downcast look that I wore throughout his class—a particularly knotty one on the uses of the subjunctive—because he stopped me on my way out the door and said, with a look of concern, “Peter, you seem a bit—how do you put it—down in the dump.”
“Dumps,” I said.
“Yes, that’s it, the dumps, ‘down in the dumps.’ But why should it be so? Here in Babbington there is but one dump, unless they are hiding another from me. Are they? Is there a dump known only to initiates in a secret society of refuse and rubbish?”
“Um, no,” I said. “I don’t think so.”
“Then one must be down in the dump, not the dumps, and that is where you seem to be. Why is that, Peter?”
“I’ve been rejected,” I said.
“Ah! An affair of the heart! Of such sweet pain the teenage years are full to overflowing, I am afraid. Doubtless you will experience rejection many times. ‘Learn young, learn fair; learn auld, learn mair.’ In my own case—”
“It was more like being rejected by a college.”
“How time flies! ‘There’s nae birds this year in last year’s nest.’ Are you after leaving us for college already?”
“No. Not yet. But I was hoping to spend the summer in New Mexico at a summer institute for promising high school students.”
“Ah. That’s a lot to parse all at once. An institute, you say?”
“What would that be? Not an institution, certainly? Not a house for the mad, I hope?”
“No, no. It’s just—I guess it’s—well—I don’t exactly know what it is. A kind of summer school.”
“Glorified by the name of Institute. I see. For promising high school students, you said?”
“I’m fully familiar with high school students, after trying to teach them to conjugate irregular verbs these past eight and twenty years, but I’m a bit less certain about what promising might mean.”
“I think it means students who show promise.”
“Students who show promise? What do they promise?”
“I guess they promise to get better—improve—do remarkable things.”
“Do you consider yourself a promising student?”
“Yeah. I think I’ve got promise.”
“You think that you are likely to do remarkable things?”
“Well—I hope so.”
“‘Him that lives on hope has a slim diet.’ What do you hope to do that’s in the remarkable class?”
“I—um—I don’t know—I—”
“Not a promising beginning,” he said.
“I’m going to build an airplane out of parts of old motorcycles,” I asserted suddenly.
“Now that is a promise! I see that you are a promising lad after all. So, with your being such a promising lad, why did the Institute for Promising Lads not accept ye?”
“Oh—my application was late—and I didn’t mention anything about building the airplane.”
“Hmmm. I see. Well, ‘nae great loss but there’s some smaa ’vantage.’ With the loss their having passed you over, the advantage is that you are, I suppose, available if other institutes come looking for recruits?”
“I’d like to go to one that’s held in New Mexico. I’ve kind of got my heart set on going to New Mexico now.”
“And ‘where the heart yearns to go, we mun go or die in the attempt,’” he murmured, mostly to himself, while he began rummaging through some papers on his desk. “Let’s see—I’ve got a notice from the Institute for Future Œnophiles—but that’s in Paris—and there’s the Institute for the Study of Callipygian Women—but that’s on the island of Martinique—and—ah!—here’s the Faustroll Institute of ’Pataphysics—in New Mexico.”
“What?” I blurted hopefully.
He held a clutch of papers toward me. They were notices from the administration about scheduling final exams.
“Oh,” I said, managing a smile. “It was a joke.”
“An attempt to get you out of the dump.” When I was on my way out the door, he said, “Peter, does it really require an institute to get you to New Mexico?”
The answer was, I decided, yes. Something as solid as an institute would be required to justify my going to New Mexico—to justify it to my father, who retained full veto power over any travel that might take me farther than the next town.
I summoned a council of friends. We met in a booth at Kap’n Klam, Porky White’s clam bar.
“Go to the Faustroll Institute,” said Matthew.
“There isn’t any Faustroll Institute,” I said.
“Your father doesn’t know that,” he said.
Reader, I wish you could have seen those young heads rise, buoyed by the possibilities that Matthew had placed before us.
“We’ll need letter of acceptance,” I said.
“I can do that,” said Marvin. “I can run off some Faustroll Institute stationery in the print shop.”
“Great,” I said. “And now I’m going to have to get Mr. MacPherson to tell me what the Faustroll Institute of ’Pataphysics is supposed to be.”
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“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. . . . Flying . . . feels like Kraft’s grandest achievement since Herb ’n’ Lorna.”
Richard Rayner, The Los Angeles Times
WE SWUNG OFF THE INTERSTATE, following the sign directing travelers to the town of Olivia. The sign was unusual. It pointed in separate directions for tour buses, for deliveries, and for passenger cars. At the end of the off-ramp for passenger cars, we approached a toll gate.
“Two?” asked the toll collector.
“There are two of us,” said Albertine, “but isn’t it a little odd to charge tolls by the person?”
“It isn’t a toll,” the collector said with the weariness of one who has had to deliver the same explanation many times. “It’s admission.”
“That’s right. It isn’t a toll, and I am not a toll collector. It’s admission, and I am a sales associate in the Admissions Department.” She pointed to the plastic tag pinned above her left breast. It said Amanda, and below that it said Sales Associate.
“I’ve never been asked to pay admission to a town before.”
“Olivia isn’t just a town,” Amanda explained. “It’s a museum. The Town of Olivia is the Museum of Olivia.”
“Olivia who?” asked Albertine.
“Just Olivia,” said Amanda. “Having her own museum and all, she has attained the rarefied status of single-name international celebrity. That’s the way the brochure puts it.”
“I’ve never heard of her,” I said.
“Still,” said Amanda, “she has her own museum, and I’d be willing to wager that you don’t.”
“Well, no,” I said, “I don’t, but there is a caricature of me on the wall of a restaurant—”
“You see,” said Amanda, “before Olivia came along, this town had been shrinking for as long as I can remember. I watched my friends grow up and move away, even saw members of my family move away. It was getting to be a very lonely place. We were on the verge of just disappearing, but then one day Olivia drove into town. She was just passing through, like you, but she was enchanted by the prospect that she, a woman named Olivia, might live in a town named Olivia. That’s the way she puts it in her introduction to the brochure. She says she was ‘enchanted by the prospect.’”
“What a surprising and fortunate coincidence that she should happen upon a town named Olivia,” said Albertine.
“Well, of course at that time the town was named Gadsleyville,” said Amanda, “but nearly the whole damned place was for sale, so Olivia saw the opportunity and she seized it. She began buying up bits and pieces of us, and pretty soon she petitioned the town council to have the name changed to Olivia, so there she was and here we are.”
“Her destiny has been fulfilled,” Albertine offered.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been fulfilled just yet,” said Amanda. “The mansion is still under construction, and the museum is likely to be under construction forever. So it remains a work in progress.”
She leaned toward us and lowered her voice. “Confidentially, just between us, Olivia turned out to be a bit of an eccentric.”
“No,” said Albertine with convincing surprise.
“Among the many exhibits that your pass will admit you to is the Gallery of Coins Found on the Sidewalk,” said Amanda. “You see, when Olivia was just a girl she found a nickel on the sidewalk. Olivia picked up that nickel, and that night she put the nickel under her pillow, and while she was lying there in bed fingering the nickel, she asked herself how many nickels she might find in her lifetime. She didn’t put it quite that way, of course, because she was just a young girl, but that was the question that formed in her mind. By morning she had a plan: she would save all the coins she found in the street for the rest of her life. Formulating a lifelong plan like that demonstrated remarkable foresight for one so young. That’s what it says in the brochure: ‘remarkable foresight for one so young.’ Will that be two day passes, then?”
“What else have you got besides coins found on the sidewalk?” asked Albertine.
“Well, there is the Gallery of Discards. Before you dismiss that as trash, I want to emphasize that discards covers a lot of territory. Most of us would think of trash when we hear the word discards, and you will find trash in the Gallery of Discards, but you will find much more than that. See, Olivia, once she decided that someday there would be a Museum of Olivia, instead of throwing anything away, she threw it into the collection. It’s all there, her personal mountain of discards, categorized, arranged, and displayed. We take all the major credit cards. Is it going to be two day passes?”
“I’m not sold yet,” said Albertine. “What else have you got?”
“There’s the Gallery of Bad Thoughts. What can I say? It’s scary. That’s what I’ll say. You can try that one if you like. I’ve never made it past the first room. That was scary enough for me. I’ve heard tell that it gets a lot worse the farther in you go. You have to ask yourself how a woman like Olivia could come up with such nasty ideas. Like it or not, she was a child of the culture and she is a woman of the world. That’s what the brochure says: ‘a child of the culture and a woman of the world.’ So she blames everybody else for her nasty ideas, that’s the way I read it. That’s what I hear her saying. Well, I never had any ideas like that. You wouldn’t find a Gallery of Bad Thoughts in the Museum of Amanda. If there were a Museum of Amanda. Listen, I’m not supposed to do this, but since you’re first-time visitors, I’ll give you two-for-one. What do you say?”
“That rare book that can change the way you look at the world. Peter looks at life as if he’s seeing it for the first time. If you’ll only buy into this, you can find the same joy Peter Leroy finds.”
William McKeen, The St. Petersburg Times
“Less than 10 pages into Flying, having already laughed aloud several times, I was struck by a question too seldom asked when trying out a new author: ‘How is it that I’ve never heard of this guy?’ ”