The Big Fish author answers eight questions about his latest novel Extra-Ordinary Adventures, the story of a man who receives a phone call that jolts his life into action.
“He did not put himself out there, as his mother might say—wherever out there was. Bronfman’s feet were stuck in cement shoes.” This is the picture we get of Daniel Wallace‘s character Edsel Bronfman in the first chapter of Extra-Ordinary Adventures, one of a 34-year-old man leading a very unassuming life. Bronfman doesn’t take risks, he’s never had a girlfriend and he doesn’t have a cellphone or computer. “His life was simple: he had his job, his apartment, and his mother.”
When Bronfman gets a phone call from a company telling him he’s won a free weekend at a timeshare in Destin, Florida, he gets excited against his better judgment. But there’s just one catch: he has to bring a companion with him. Other than his mother, Bronfman has no one to consider, and the prize must be claimed within 79 days.
Bronfman decides the call is a sign, “a crack in the shell of his life” that now seems full of possibility. As Wallace takes Bronfman on the adventures that begin to shape his new life, we meet Sheila McNabb, who characterizes people as animals when she meets them and writes instructions for a living; his mother, still full of vitality but in the early stages of dementia; drug-dealing neighbor Thomas Edison; and Skip Sorsby, his cubicle mate at work who has so many women he can’t keep them straight.
While witnessing Bronfman approach his life with an incredible sense of bravery (and plenty of humor), we find out that the people he encounters along the way are, like him, much more than they appear. His mother tells him she wants him to have “bigger ideas, more beautiful thoughts. I want you to soar.”
And that’s just the feeling you’ll get after reading this book. Like you have the capacity to soar and take the reins of your own life to experience at least one extra-ordinary adventure this summer.
EZB: Have you ever had an extra-ordinary adventure?
DW: So many! When I was 20 years old, I tracked down my favorite writer at the time, Tom Robbins, to a little cabin in Washington State. He invited me in for dinner. I’ve seen three active volcanoes. Most extraordinary of all? I write books.
EZB: Are you a beach or mountain type of guy?
DW: Of the two, I am more beach (mountains just sit there, they’re sort of dull). More than anything though I’m an indoor person. An adventurer of the great indoors. Fun with air-conditioning and warm showers.
EZB: Bronfman wins a weekend at a Destin condo by putting his business card in a jar at his favorite deli. Have you ever won anything by putting your business card in a jar?
DW: No. I have never won anything IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. I am a bitter, bitter man. This book is nothing more than imaginative wish fulfillment on my part.
EZB: What type of animal do you think Sheila would say you are?
DW: She would say I’m a ostrich, for sure.
EZB: Bronfman collects ballpoint pens. Do you collect anything?
DW: Just glass eyes. There is a long story here (see below).
EZB: When he was in school, Bronfman’s mother prepared his lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the entire year beforehand and froze them. Do you prefer peanut butter or ham and cheese?
DW: Every day at 11 a.m., I eat a banana with peanut butter. That keeps me alive for another hour or two. And no, I don’t refrigerate my peanut butter and don’t understand people who do.
EZB: What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken?
DW: Quitting my father’s business and dedicating myself to a writer’s life. Hands down. I am so lucky.
EZB: Sheila tells stories because she’s scared. Why do you tell them?
DW: Because I’m shy and yet love to make people laugh—and cry—and smile and get uncomfortable and, when possible, every other emotion on the emotional scale. A book or a story can go out into the world and do that for me. For all I know, something is laughing right now because of something I’ve written. Right this second. There is also this: I believe in the worlds I’m creating. They are as real as anything to me. This makes the world seem bigger than big. It makes it multifarious.
More on the glass eye collection …
I collect glass eyes. It’s all because of Frank McGowan. He actually had a glass eye. He lost his real one when the blades of a tiny electronic helicopter spun off its bearings and impaled itself in his vitreous cavity, the very inside of the eye.
Frank was in Mrs. Flower’s sixth-grade class with me. Given that we were neighbors, and knew each other right from the start, we were always teamed up when teaming was necessary. And when Frank had to wash his glass eye, which was three or four times a day, he always asked Mrs. Flowers if I could accompany him. It was a request she never refused.
In the bathroom, he and I would stand in front of the sink, not saying much, and he would turn on the tap, letting the water run for a moment. Then he would reach up to his face and, gently pulling back his bottom lid, insert his fingers beneath the lower edge of his eye, and out it would slip. He held it in the palm of his hand like a treasure, and let the water rush over it, until it glistened in the florescent light. It was green, and it was shaped like a seashell, or half of a hollowed-out, oblong marble. The pupil was piercingly black, and the green of the iris was deep and very real. I just watched as he took a brown paper towel from the wall dispenser and dried it, and then as he used the same towel to wipe whatever mush still clung to the skin. Then, the eye held in the soft tips of his fingers, he brought it to the socket and sort of … pushed it … and … moved it … around, until it felt good to him, in its place.
This is why I collect glass eyes.
– Daniel Wallace
Daniel Wallace photo by Iman Woods.