Daniel Wallace’s ‘Extraordinary Adventures’ lays bare an ordinary life

Author Daniel Wallace’s most recent novel is “Extraordinary Adventures.”
Author Daniel Wallace’s most recent novel is “Extraordinary Adventures.” Iman Woods

Chapel Hill author Daniel Wallace’s main characters are often men exploring their inner lives.

His new novel, “Extraordinary Adventures,” is more of the same, taking on a man’s vulnerability in the dating world.

Edsel Bronfman lives reluctantly. Frankly, he’s too careful. His mother claims she was in labor two days because he wouldn’t come out. He’s a second-guesser.

According to his mother, “If there was rain in the forecast, you insisted on taking two umbrellas to school, just in case you lost one of them. Sweetie, I love you. I wouldn’t trade you for anything. But you were never … in the world.”

So when he wins a time-share vacation at a Florida beach resort, he’s afraid to claim the prize, especially when he’s told of the single string attached. The 34-year-old socially awkward shipping clerk must bring a significant other, a girlfriend or wife. The offer expires in 79 days and the clock is ticking.

This is a real challenge for a man who is not sure whether or not he’s still a virgin. He had an encounter in his teens but he wasn’t sure exactly what happened. And he was too embarrassed to ask the girl for a review. As the author writes, “He was a man who was overlooked by everyone, maybe because he had been standing in one place for such a long time.”

This novel is comical at times as Bronfman tries to figure out his manhood while working on his physical appearance and trying to be charming. He’s had no real male role models in his life, just a quirky mother who conceived him during a one-night stand. Then there’s his drug-addict neighbor, Thomas Edison, who breaks in Bronfman’s seedy Birmingham, Alabama, apartment and steals his few possessions, including his television, flatware and childhood cowboy hat. Bronfman barely confronts him.

Several times, I was cheering for Bronfman to figure out his own sense of purpose. Wallace, at times, cleverly nudges Bronfman to commit. He gives him a few small steps, asking for dates, a kiss and a writing pen. But I found the character boring and his steps too tiny for a man of his age. His daily life seemed so lackluster because Bronfman moves in slow motion.

Wallace, the director of creative writing and the J. Ross MacDonald Distinguished Professor of English at UNC-Chapel Hill, is the author of several novels, including the national best-seller “Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions,” which was turned into a movie starring Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney. His other books include “Ray in Reverse,” “The Watermelon King” and “The Kings and Queens of Roam.”

For me, “Extraordinary Adventures” never became amazing or exceptional. It was just too ordinary. I wanted more for Bronfman than he wanted for himself.

Bridgette A. Lacy is a freelance writer and the author of “Sunday Dinner, a Savor the South cookbook” by UNC Press of Chapel Hill. Reach her at


“Extraordinary Adventures”

By Daniel Wallace

St. Martin Press, 336 pages

Meet the author

What: Daniel Wallace will read from his new book at a book launch 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 30, at Flyleaf Books, 752 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Chapel Hill.

He’ll have additional appearances at 11 a.m. June 24, at McIntyre’s Books, 2000 Fearrington Village Center in Pittsboro; 7 p.m. June 26 at Quail Ridge Books, 4209-100 Lassiter Mill Road, Raleigh; and 7 p.m. June 29 at the Regulator Bookshop, 720 Ninth St., in Durham.