Wallace, Daniel 1959-

views updated

Wallace, Daniel 1959-

PERSONAL:

Born 1959, in Birmingham, AL; married; wife's name Laura; children: Henry. Education: Attended Emory University and University of North Carolina.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Chapel Hill, NC E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Author and illustrator. Has also taught writing at University of North Carolina branch campuses, and at Bread Loaf and Sewanee writers conferences. Actor in film Big Fish (based on his novel), 2003.

WRITINGS:

(With Grant Kornberg) The Largely Literary Legacy of the Late Leon Tolbert, illustrated by Steven Cragg, Crown (New York, NY), 1995.

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), 1998.

Ray in Reverse, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), 2000.

The Watermelon King, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.

(Author of introduction) John August, Big Fish: The Shooting Script (based on Wallace's novel), Newmarket Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Off the Map (short stories), Two Cranes Press (Singapore), 2005.

O Grand Rosenfeld! Une histoire avec des images, translated by Laurent Bury, Editions Autrement (Paris, France), 2006.

Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to periodicals, including Prairie Schooner, Massachusetts Review, Glimmer Train, Story, and Shenandoah; contributor of illustrations to periodicals, including Los Angeles Times and Italian Vanity Fair.

ADAPTATIONS:

Big Fish was adapted for film, screenplay by John August, directed by Tim Burton, Columbia Pictures, 2003.

SIDELIGHTS:

Author Daniel Wallace published dozens of stories in literary magazines and wrote several books before one found a publisher, Algonquin Press, just a few miles from his Chapel Hill, North Carolina, doorstep. Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions is a small novel, in part because of Wallace's time constraints (he was also caring for his newborn son), but it made a big impact. The story is set in Ashland, Alabama, a town based on Cullman, Alabama, where Wallace's grandparents lived and where he spent summers as a child. Wallace told Publishers Weekly interviewer Norman Oder that "it's about a son who's trying to get a deeper relationship with his dad, as the older man is dying. I'd always wanted to have a better relationship with my father."

The book is divided into four sections and begins when William Bloom and his mother are told by the family doctor that it's time to say goodbye to his father, Edward. William and Edward's relationship over the years has consisted primarily of the father telling the son tired jokes and tall tales, and even now, it's the only way he is able to communicate. William's response is to recreate his father as the "big fish" of the title, a man who in one episode grapples with a catfish as big as a man. He overpowers a giant and becomes a hero to a child when he saves him from a huge dog in others. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that the chapters "have the transformative quality of fable and fairy tale." James Polk reviewed Big Fish in the New York Times Book Review, noting that it is "a nice encapsulation of the complexity with which many sons view their fathers. They begin as mythical creatures, the first adult male the child encounters, moral and physical giants who can do no wrong. The flaws come later, as the son begins to glimpse the imperfections. In this novel, however, the son chooses to go back before the flaws, to embrace and enlarge the myth." Big Fish was optioned for film by John August, who rewrote it for the screen.

A Publishers Weekly contributor called Ray in Reverse "a delightful small package of exquisite writing." Ray Williams has died of cancer at age fifty and gone to heaven. He was not a flawless man, having been unfaithful to his wife many times. He was also a less-than-perfect father who indulged in alcohol and lying and once ran over a dog. And yet, he made it, and finds himself in the Last Words support group, where members relate what they said as they left their earthly home. Ray, sitting on a folding chair in the back, falsifies his last words, and he eventually forces the others to admit to their embellishments, demonstrating that in heaven, souls are not perfect. Fed up with the group, he goes off to find another group to join. Wallace then reviews Ray's life in reverse, showing him as a philandering husband, a father who takes over the tree house he built for his own son, a sexually confused young man, and finally as a child. Ray eventually returns to the Last Word group where, a Kirkus Reviews writer noted, he "offers a Rosebud-like answer to the meaning of life."

Barbara Sutton wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "Wallace suggests that the only hero a life like Ray's can have is Ray himself: he's more Homer Simpson than David Copperfield, but wise enough to see the ironies of his acts on earth and eventually able to tell a good joke in heaven." "Ray in Reverse provides no answers," commented Janice A. Farringer in a review for January. "Daniel Wallace never intended it to, I suspect. His book is conceived to allow us in on one's human journey. The lesson of Ray's unexamined life might be that the way you act on any given day is just the way you act. No big plan, maybe some childhood morality lingering for awhile, but no index, no map. Ray just moves on and does not apologize. He really never sees the big picture either, and this is his life, his flashback."

The Watermelon King is also set in Ashland, once known as the watermelon capital of the world because of two things. The first was that the sweet melons were specially fertilized in a most bizarre way, and the second was because of a symbolic sacrifice that took place at the annual Watermelon Festival. Each year, the oldest male virgin was sent into the fields to be deflowered in a furrow. The first part of the story is about beautiful Lucy Rider, who comes to town from the city to care for a family rental property as a diversion after her mother's death. She makes sandwiches to pay for repairs to the place and becomes tutor to Iggy Winslow, a young man of diminished mental capabilities. When Lucy learns of the yearly ritual, she comes up with a plan to stop what she considers a cruel and unacceptable practice. And when she does, the crop fails and the town is forever changed. Nineteen-year-old Tom Rider comes to Ashland to learn more about Lucy, who died at his birth. His grandfather, Edmund, who raised him in Birmingham, wouldn't tell Tom, and he elicits pieces of his past from the townspeople. What they want from him is a sacrifice that hasn't been offered up in nearly twenty years. On Alabama Public Radio, Don Noble called The Watermelon King "an intelligent, lively narrative. As usual, Wallace's characters are quirky and eccentric." Southern Scribe contributor Nicki Leone wrote that Wallace "has a genius for weaving mythic themes and tall tales into the fabric of everyday small town life."

In Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician, Wallace tells the story of Henry Walker, a formerly great magician, now reduced to working in a small carnival. The novel itself begins in the 1950s, when Henry has disappeared without warning. "Henry's story, told by a succession of narrators—including members of the circus and a private detective—begins during the Depression," explained a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Henry meets and learned from Mr. Sebastian (who may or may not be the Devil), who teaches Henry the secrets of great magicianship and disappears, taking Henry's sister Hannah with him. When Henry enters the profession of magic, his agent decides he will be more marketable in blackface, so he places Henry on a series of pills designed to darken his complexion. "World War II intervenes and Henry (white again) garners a rep for magically deflecting bullets and bombs in France," stated a Kirkus Reviews contributor. "However, when Henry raises his beloved assistant, and Hannah surrogate, Marianne, from the dead, his career tanks prematurely." "Wallace … writes with a heartbreaking kind of razzle-dazzle," Bob Minzeheimer declared in USA Today. "He takes a clue from Mr. Sebastian, who says that he's ‘cultivating an aura of mystery…. It's like magic: you don't want to give away too much.’"

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, February 15, 2000, Peggy Barber, review of Ray in Reverse, p. 1086; February 15, 2003, Meredith Parets, review of The Watermelon King, p. 1051.

Hollywood Reporter, May 24, 2002, Zorianna Kit, "Universal Books ‘Timeless’ Film for Shady Acres," p. 4.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2000, review of Ray in Reverse, p. 201; December 1, 2002, review of The Watermelon King, p. 1731; May 1, 2007, review of Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician.

Library Journal, November 15, 1998, Shannon Haddock, review of Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, p. 92; April 1, 2007, Debbie Bogenschutz, review of Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician, p. 85.

New York Times Book Review, October 25, 1998, James Polk, review of Big Fish, p. 23; April 30, 2000, Barbara Sutton, review of Ray in Reverse, p. 21.

Publishers Weekly, July 20, 1998, review of Big Fish, p. 205; August 3, 1998, Norman Oder, interview with Wallace, p. 56; February 21, 2000, review of Ray in Reverse, p. 65; February 24, 2003, review of The Watermelon King, p. 51; April 9, 2007, review of Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician, p. 27.

State (Columbia, SC), July 11, 2007, Claudia Smith Brinson, "Wonderful Tales Emerge in ‘Mr. Sebastian.’"

Strange Horizons, October 11, 2004, Jason Erik Lundberg, "Interview: Daniel Wallace."

Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC), August 5, 2007, Jennifer Parker, "Appeal of Magic, Quest for Identity."

USA Today, July 12, 2007, Bob Minzesheimer, "Sleight of Handwriting Lifts ‘Sebastian,’" p. 4D.

ONLINE

Alabama Public Radio,http://www.apr.org/ (January 4, 2008), Don Noble, review of The Watermelon King.

BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (January 4, 2008), Todd Keith, review of Big Fish, Bruce Tierney, review of Ray in Reverse.

Daniel Wallace Home Page,http://www.danielwallace.org (January 4, 2008), author bio.

January,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (January 4, 2008), Janice A. Farringer, review of Ray in Reverse.

Long Island Press Online,http://www.longislandpress.com/ (January 4, 2008), Brenda A. Morey, review of The Watermelon King.

Montgomery Advertiser Online,http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/ (January 4, 2008), Rick Harmon, interview with Wallace.

Onion A.V. Club,http://www.theonionavclub.com/ (January 4, 2008), Tasha Robinson, review of Ray in Reverse.

Southern Scribe,http://www.southernscribe.com/ (January 4, 2008), Nicki Leone, review of The Watermelon King.

About this article

Wallace, Daniel 1959-

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article