Glass half empty meets glass half full in Dan Mooney's novel The Great Unexpected. Late in his life, Joel Monroe has lived for five years "under the watchful eye of a pack of people who treated him like a child." Frank de Selby is his new roommate, a former soap opera star, arriving at Hilltop Nursing Home with a cheerful demeanor, an arsenal of stories and a natty (if slightly worn) wardrobe. Their camaraderie slowly blossoms into a pact, and the two become the most famous escapees Hilltop has ever known.
Joel can't be blamed for resisting the charms of "the famous Mr. de Selby" at first. His wife's sudden death and the passing of the man assigned to her empty bed have plunged him into a mourning he denies. Yet he discovers a kinship with Frank when he realizes the actor is gay--"an isolated, vulnerable man just like himself"--and decides to confide his deepest secret: he's plotting his suicide. Rather than shock, Frank responds with congratulations to Joel on becoming master of his own fate. With theatrical flair, he offers to help him do it right, suggesting they slip away where they can "plan that final farewell." Their foray prompts stern reprimands upon their return, but doesn't stop them from repeating their escapades, downing pints, sampling night life and reminiscing at sites from their past. Frank nudges Joel to live it up, and leads him to realize "with each day in his friend's company he had walked farther away from the void inside himself." Funny and poignant, The Great Unexpected is a charming story of new beginnings and bittersweet endings. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco