Hardcover (also available an e-book, on Audible, and on audio CD), 978-1-9848-0493-8, 336 pgs., $26
April 14, 2020
Dallas writer and former aerospace engineer Brooke Fossey has delivered a down-to-earth, lighthearted debut novel that comically could be tagged “No Nursing Home for Old Men.”
Her well-written book’s central character, Duffy Sinclair, is an eighty-eight-year-old curmudgeon who feels as if he’s wasted his entire life. Yet he’s not going down without a fight. He intends to cling to his room at Centennial Assisted Living with the desperate strength of a man dangling from a cliff. If he lets loose, he’ll plunge straight into the “roach-infested” Simmons Home for the Aged. It’s the only other senior-living facility in his small Texas town and, to him, a nursing home “hellhole” where he’s sure he’ll die an undignified, lonely death.
Meanwhile, Duffy’s roommate, Carl Upton, also eighty-eight, keeps him on edge by being more focused on Centennial’s daily meals and activities than on worries about declining health, mental acuity, and getting deported to the nursing home.
As the novel’s first-person reliable eyewitness, Duffy expounds on his and Carl’s relationship while he helps Carl and his walker get into gear for their next step-clunk, step-clunk jaunt to Centennial’s dining hall.
“Carl and I, we were the benevolent rulers of Centennial, crowned because we were able-bodied for the most part, intellectually sound, and...movie-star handsome. Never mind that Carl’s face was back-end ugly when he didn’t have his dentures in; he always remembered them, and that’s what was important. And truthfully, between the two of us, Carl preferred to be the brains in the background while I served as the bullhorn . . . . Our people needed to hear from us, lest they think us dead.”
However, their daily routines of eating, rumormongering, and trying to stir up some octogenarian romance are disrupted when Carl’s twenty-year-old granddaughter, Josie, suddenly sneaks into the assisted living center. She needs a roof over her head, she says, plus a place to hide from a bad boyfriend, her alcoholism, and the recent death of her mother, Carl’s estranged daughter. True to character, Duffy opposes letting Josie live in their room, certain they’ll all be caught and thrown out.
Brooke Fossey keeps her novel moving smoothly and maintains good control over its dark and light moments as the bond between Carl and Josie begins to fray. Duffy, who has no surviving family, realizes he now has to help them both.
A few residents and low-level employees at Centennial helping Duffy, Carl, and Josie keep up the risky and often funny ruse. And, as they do, they gradually meld themselves into a strong, life-affirming, and completely unconventional family. This is a key theme within the book. “Family” can be anyone willing to stop, share, and care when needs arise.
Brooke Fossey’s The Big Finish is a bittersweet tale full of life, love, laughter, fears of the unknown, and reasons to be better people right up to the end.
Brooke Fossey was once an aerospace engineer with a secret clearance before she traded it all in for motherhood and writing. She’s a past president and an honorary lifetime member of DFW Writers Workshop. Her work can be found in numerous publications, including Ruminate Magazine and SmokeLong Quarterly. When she’s not writing, you can find her in Dallas, Texas, with her husband, four kids, and their dog, Rufus. She still occasionally does math.
Si Dunn is a screenwriter and author living in Austin, Texas. He earned a BA in journalism from North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas). He is a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War. He worked for several newspapers as a photojournalist, including the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, and Denton Record-Chronicle.