Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Review: The Great Unexpected by Dan Mooney

When you see that Dan Mooney's novel, The Great Unexpected, is about two men in their late seventies living in a nursing home, you might think the great unexpected of the title is death but when you think about it, death is never really unexpected in a nursing home. In fact, they are called things like Heaven's Waiting Room, Old Folk's Home, Wrinkle Ranch, and Elder Shelter, all of which imply age and mortality. No, what the great unexpected refers to here is making a friend, a dear and close friend, and learning to really live at the end of life.

Joel is a cantankerous old coot who lives at Hilltop Manor, a nursing home/assisted living center. He moved in with his wife Lucey after they sold their home to help their daughter financially but Lucey's been gone now for three years. Joel's next roommate is a comatose man called Mr. Miller. Joel says he's the best roommate ever because he doesn't make much noise and lets Joel have control of the TV remote. When Miller also dies one night, Joel is thrown for a loop by how much he is bothered by this death. Then he is horrified anew when another resident is moved into his room. This new roommate, Frank Adams, a retired actor whose stage name was Frank de Selby, is everything that drives Joel batty. Frank is outgoing and charming and incredibly chatty. He is flamboyant and dapper, wearing a silk scarf every day. Joel is determined to dislike this interloper in his room but finds that as he gets to know the person underneath the de Selby mask, he rather likes Frank. The two men couldn't be more different and they love to wind each other up, but they become treasured friends. Frank confides in Joel about his terrible family and how alone he has been since they discovered that he's gay. Joel's reaction to Frank's homosexuality is not as open minded as it could be so to make up for his initial intolerance, he admits to Frank that he doesn't think his life is worth living anymore and that he wants to kill himself.  Sharing their secrets brings them closer together, cementing their friendship even as they bicker and hurt one another verbally.  And Frank helps Joel to learn to live even as together they consider different scenarios for Joel's suicide.  It's like they've known each other for decades instead of just a few weeks.

These two old geezers, repeated nursing home escapees, are delightful to read about. Frank is debonair and educated. He's generally a happy soul although he lets few people see the real person behind the charmer. Joel is a curmudgeon who feels trapped in the nursing home and as if everyone around him is against him. He resents being treated like a child, being stripped of control over his own life, and condescended to when he once owned his own garage, supported his family, and was a successful adult. His grumpy demeanor is completely understandable given his assessment of his life. Frank's personality is 180 degrees different and he tries to view everything cheerfully despite the ugliness and hatred he faced in his life. The mischievousness of the pair together is only enhanced by their differences and leads to moments of great humor. Mooney does a good job showing how we treat old people, how demeaning and unfair it is, and how much richer we'd be if we didn't fail our elderly population. The contrast between the two men is used to good effect, showing how our attitudes towards things matter. Life is so much more pleasant with a glass half full perspective. But he also doesn't minimize real reasons for depression and sadness. The ending of the novel is completely predictable but even that predictability doesn't take away from the tender and delightful tale of late in life friendship, understanding, and the importance of family connections all riven through with entertaining banter. Anyone who liked Grumpy Old Men, A Man Called Ove, or The Odd Couple will enjoy Joel and Frank's relationship and exploits and anyone with an aging relative (that would be all of us) should read this and consider how we treat the aging folks we love.

For more information about Dan Mooney and the book, check our his author website, like him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and publisher Park Row Books for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. Honestly? Are you even living if you aren't a nursing home escapee? Ha! Thank you for being on this tour! Sara @TLC Book Tours

  2. Sounds great, thanks for sharing your thoughts


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