What a Piece of Work I Am

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Readers of Eric Kraft’s earlier novels in the continuing series entitled THE PERSONAL HISTORY, ADVENTURES, EXPERIENCES & OBSERVATIONS OF PETER LEROY will remember Ariane Lodkochnikov, the luscious teenager who was the object of Peter Leroy’s devoted and wistful passions when he was a small boy in Babbington, Long Island. Upon Ariane’s graduation from high school, readers learn that she took a job as a waitress in a Babbington clam bar. One day, overcome with a irresistible desire to make more of herself, Ariane took off her goofy clam hat and quit. From that moment on, Ariane’s winding path to self-discovery and self-creation is filled with extraordinary twists, surprising turns, and very peculiar stopping places.

Years later, Ariane enlists Peter—now a teacher of “molluscan biology, local history, folk etymology and recreational mathematics at Babbington High”—to write the story of her unusual life. (At least that is one version of what happens in WHAT A PIECE OF WORK I AM. There is also the possibility that—as Peter tells us in his preface to this book—Ariane died in a house fire shortly after she graduated high school. Such is the confusing nature of Ariane’s life, Peter’s story, and Eric Kraft’s novel.)

As Peter and Ariane endeavor to untangle and record the labyrinthine threads of her life, they find them closely entwined with the lives of several others, not the least of whom are Peter’s devoted paternal grandparents, a treacherous man named Guy, and the celebrated film director Greg Tschudin, who has appropriated Ariane’s life story and fictionalized it in his films.

Neither Peter Leroy nor Eric Kraft would likely be inclined to talk about the themes of this comic yet humane novel: reality and fiction, truth and deception, the ownership of our own lives, what it means to create art and what it means to be a work of art—ultimately, the question whether the creator and the creation can ever exist apart. Suffice it to say that few novelists or characters have enjoyed such an lusty and exhilarating tussle with their muse.