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Ordinary life begets ‘Extraordinary Adventures’

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Daniel Wallace novel an intimate, funny portrait of a late bloomer

What happens when a man who has never once rocked the boat all of a sudden finds himself with a reason to make a few waves?

That’s the central question in Daniel Wallace’s “Extraordinary Adventures” (St. Martin’s Press, $25.99), the funny and heartfelt story of one man who is pushed outside of the comfort zone of his humdrum life, yanked from the decades-long rut he has worn into the floor of his existence by little more than the vague promises of a single phone call.

Edsel Bronfman – those who know him simply call him Bronfman – is going through the motions. He’s 34 and lives in Birmingham. He works pushing papers as a junior executive at a flatware company. He lives in a seedy neighborhood and his closest acquaintances (aside from his mother, of course) are his sketchball of a neighbor and the guy he kind of dislikes from the next cubicle at the office.

And this is a life. Of sorts.

But when Bronfman receives a phone call, it all changes. He’s told that he has won a free weekend in Florida if he agrees to watch a timeshare presentation. However, the one caveat is that he needs a companion to come with him. Basically, he has 79 days to get close enough romantically to someone that they might agree to join him for a weekend at the beach.

This proves daunting for someone like Bronfman, who has never really dated, well … anyone. But an encounter with the bubbly oddball receptionist at his office building sets into motion a chain of events where things start happening TO Bronfman, rather than AROUND him; after an adulthood marked by a constant beige status quo, the world quickly takes on brand new hues.

There’s the meet-cute with the receptionist that turns into an odd series of air-quote dates. Bronfman’s apartment is robbed; during the investigation, a policewoman attracts his eye – and he hers. There’s a lot of weird stuff going on next door – stuff that Bronfman knows very little about – but there’s a young lady named Coco who finds him intriguing. And none of that even takes into account his work life or the complexities of his relationship with his mother.

But at the center of it all, that goal – to find someone. But the clock is ticking.

“Extraordinary Adventures” is about a man who is about as ordinary as they come. But from that very ordinariness springs an engaging character. It’s rare to find a hero this mundane, but Wallace has elevated Bronfman into a sort of ur-chump, a guy who has never once strayed from his lane and – until now – has never even really considered it.

There’s a sweet awkwardness that permeates the character’s every interaction. Despite his social failings, Bronfman is perfectly likable; his sincerity and naivete largely supersede his flaws. He is, to be frank, weird, though rarely off-puttingly so.

One could argue that in “Extraordinary Adventures,” Wallace has created a kind of coming-of-age story. While Bronfman is an adult in chronological terms, this narrative is when he truly blooms emotionally. In many respects, this is the story of Edsel Bronfman becoming a man.

Among Wallace’s many writerly strengths – and one of his greatest – is his gift for inviting the reader into a character’s interior. Inner lives are rendered with such richness; a seemingly simple fellow like Bronfman is made fascinating even when he is at his deliberate dullest. That kind of vivid representation is relatively rare in the literary wild, yet common in Wallace’s pages. Yet despite the introspective nature of the depiction, the narrative pace is crisp and contagious.

“Extraordinary Adventures” is a thoughtful, poignant story of love and life, a deft bildungsroman depicting one man’s detour from the humdrum in order to embrace the possibilities that he never suspected he might want. A strong (as usual) offering from Daniel Wallace.

Last modified on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 12:05

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