The newest from Wallace, best known for Big Fish (1998), offers a tenderhearted, likable contribution to the tradition of the Great American Chump Novel.
Edsel Bronfman is a 34-year-old paper-pusher with a perfect work-attendance record and a lonely heart. The spectacularly unworldly Edsel is sitting one day as usual in his apartment in a drug-ridden Birmingham neighborhood when the phone rings, and the woman on the other end offers an all-expenses-paid trip to a beachside time-share community. The caveat is that he must bring a companion to be eligible, and Edsel—though aware at least dimly that this is a mere sales come-on—decides to seize his perhaps-never-to-be-repeated chance to find romance. He has 79 days. At work the next day, he summons the nerve to speak to the odd, gregarious woman who serves as greeter/receptionist in his office building; she and he have a halting but promising chat...and then he's off and running, or off and shambling/stumbling, anyway. Before long, with the help of an accidental meet-cute (or re-meet-cute), he's dating the greeter—the lively, flighty Sheila McNabb—and his sweetness has put him in the way of a couple of other mild flirtations, too. The first third of the book is a bit slow, mainly because Wallace has made Edsel so staggeringly and stereotypically naïve, so helpless—no slate can be quite this blank. But once Edsel starts to fall for Sheila (and, sort of, also for a sturdy, kind police officer and for the damaged and vulnerable gamin-ish friend of his drug-dealing neighbor), it gains its footing and keeps it.
A sweet-tempered, funny, surprisingly poignant romantic tale.