Author: Daniel Wallace
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Price: $25.99 (Hardcover)
Daniel Wallace’s new novel opens with a scene familiar to all. Edsel Bronfman is at home when the phone rings. Poor, naïve Edsel—and who would name a child Edsel, the most sensational failure in American automotive history?—answers, fearing it is bad news. Perhaps his mother is ill or he is being fired from his job. Edsel is not an optimistic fellow.
But no. It’s good news! Extraordinary Adventures, Inc. has called. Edsel has won, won, a free weekend at a condo in Destin. All he has to do is show up there with a partner—no specific kind—and attend one, only one, one-hour promotional talk about the wonders of Sandscape Condominiums.
This is where I usually say thank you and hang up but innocent Edsel, 34, of Birmingham, Alabama, has never won anything. He is thrilled.
But he can’t go. He has no partner. The salesperson on the phone, Carla D’Angelo, encourages him not to be too hasty in rejecting the offer. Perhaps in the time allotted he could meet someone, have a date, invite her to the beach.
Miss D’Angelo, surprisingly kind and gentle for a telephone salesperson, encourages Edsel: “Anything could happen in seventy-nine days…. You have to open yourself up to life. Face your greatest fears. Discover what it means to be alive in the world.”
Miraculously, shy, reclusive, fearful Edsel takes this call, as a sign to decide to get out there.
He WILL meet a girl! He WILL get a date! He will get to the beach where, of course, he has never been.
As the next few weeks go by we learn of Edsel’s very quiet life. His title is “Account Executive, Shipping,” for an import company. He sits in his cubicle all day at a computer checking on deliveries.
There is nothing “executive” about it.
The company is in the Cranston Building. You have to watch Daniel Wallace for names. Bronfman is nearly unpronounceable; Lamont Cranston was the old radio detective who was not exactly invisible but could cloud the minds of others so they could not see him. Few can see Edsel, and, as well, unlike Lamont Cranston who knows “what evil lurks in the minds of men,” Edsel doesn’t.
He lives at King’s Manor, an apartment complex so shabby he got the first month’s rent free. Drug deals go down all around the parking lot and his apartment is burglarized one night while he’s away visiting his mother.
None of this discourages the newly determined Edsel. He steels himself and actually talks to women—Sheila McNabb, the quirky receptionist in his building; Coco, the gamine Japanese-American girlfriend of his sorry next-door-neighbor Tommy Edison; and even Serena, the sturdy, kind policewoman who investigates his robbery.
Once gentle, decent Bronfman gathers the courage to speak, women KNOW at once he is a good guy and they respond, just as Ms. D’Angelo had predicted.
Bronfman is a gentleman, maybe compulsively so. “He would hold the door open for a Nazi.”
“Extraordinary Adventures” is a charmer. Bronfman has his ups and downs but as we watch him come out of his shell, dripping yolk, we know he will be OK. This novel is more realistic than the hugely celebrated surreal “Big Fish” or the wildly imaginative “Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician”—which I think is Wallace’s best—but it is clever, whimsical, fun to read and has just a touch of the unexplainable which Wallace likes so much.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.