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Extraordinary Adventures by Daniel Wallace

Published by St. Martin's Press on May 30, 2017

Extraordinary Adventures is a romantic comedy that focuses on a social misfit. In that sense, it channels The Rosie Project, although the plot and characters are quite different. The novel is a light, pleasant beach read. It isn’t belly-laugh funny but it made me smile often enough to earn an easy recommendation.

Edsel Bronfman, at 34, has never had a social life. He isn’t sure whether he’s a virgin. Bronfman “wins” a weekend at a Florida condo, which he will be pressured to purchase if he says yes. The catch is that he must bring a companion, because couples are more likely to buy than singles. Unfortunately for Bronfman, he has no companion and not much hope of finding one before the offer expires. His best bet as a travel buddy might be the receptionist in the office building where Bronfman works — she actually had a brief conversation with him one day — but she’s a temp and has disappeared before he works up the courage to ask her on a date.

Bronfman believes he suffers from a condition that prevents him from doing anything to improve his position in the world. He is, in his mother’s words, “a second guesser of second-guesses.” But Bronfman’s mother also told him, during his childhood, that his future was “a disappointment waiting to happen,” so it is easy to understand why Bronfman turned out the way he did.

Bronfman nevertheless sees the weekend in Florida as a motivation to change his life. Bit by bit, Bronfman tries to become a part of world. He discovers that when you become part of the world, the world gives you things to do, which can be kind of a pain, but he takes it as a learning experience. His encounters leave him on the periphery while giving him the illusion of being on the inside and of bonding with the insiders who, in truth, barely notice him. But they also, bit by bit, allow Bronfman to let go of the past and to define himself in the present. As the novel nears its end, someone asks Bronfman “What do you want?” and Bronfman realizes it is a question he has never asked himself. His answer is encouraging.

The characters in Extraordinary Adventures are amusing and quirky. His co-workers are typical of cube-dwellers who are diligent in their efforts to pursue interests at work that do not include work. His neighbor is a drug dealer who probably stole all of Bronfman’s possessions (except for his promotional pen collection). Bronfman’s mother is now old and a bit addled, unless she’s just seeing the world in a different way. She’s convinced her caretaker is stealing from her and breaking things. Her kindly caretaker is justifiably convinced that Bronfman’s mother is off her rocker.

Sheila, the receptionist, is a bit of an enigma whose stories about her past and present might not be entirely reliable. A police woman named Serena might be a dating prospect, but Bronfman isn’t sure about dating a woman who carries a gun. The drug dealer’s female friend is also on Bronfman’s short list of travel companions. In their own ways, all three women appeal to Bronfman, simply because they have noticed his existence.

The ending is predictable but satisfying. In fact, a romantic comedy would probably be unsatisfying if it did not end in a predictable way. The choice Bronfman makes might not be entirely unexpected, but I suspect that most readers will simply want him to make a choice, to move his life forward. Extraordinary Adventures succeeds because Bronfman succeeds in opening himself to the world of possibility, even if his success is exactly what the reader anticipates.


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