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After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story by [Hainey, Michael]
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Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2013: In 1970, when Hainey was six, his uncle showed up to say that his father had collapsed and died alone in the street on Chicago's North Side. Being out at dawn wasn't unusual for the elder Hainey, the Night Slot Man at the Chicago Sun Times who vetted every stitch of copy before it went to press. But as Hainey grew up and became a journalist himself, he checked his dad's obits and realized they didn't align. This is the story of his obsession with uncovering the real story of his father's death, how he broke through a wall of secrecy, and made startling revelations about the kind of man his dad had been--as a reporter, husband, and father. It's about how the truth transformed Hainey's relationships with his living family, especially his mother. Unfolding like a good novel with the gathering momentum of a mystery, Hainey's memoir explores the transgressions we'll willingly forgive to finally know someone, even after they're long gone. --Mari Malcolm

Guest Review: Elizabeth Gilbert on After Visiting Friends

Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed.

I began reading Michael Hainey's beautiful book when I was about two days away from finishing my novel—maybe three—and I had been writing nonstop for five months. I would not normally have interrupted my work at such an important (for me) moment, but I simply couldn’t help myself. I read the first few pages of his memoir, and was immediately captured by it—taken hostage completely. There is no way to begin this book without desperately wanting to finish it as fast as possible. There is no way to sleep in peace until you know how this memoir ends. There is no way not to care.

Is there any more powerful story in the world than a boy looking for his father? Hainey's book begins with a mysterious death, proceeds through years of unanswered questions, builds into a relentless investigation, and ends with the stubborn alchemy of a heart transformed. This is a beautiful work of reporting and redemption. He's done extraordinary work with this book—it's so elegant, so careful, and so devastating. It is also written in the tight, immaculate prose of a world-class journalist and editor—somebody who has spent years learning his way around the ins and outs of a good sentence. This is the story of his life, clearly, and it reads that way—as though he has been honing and shaping this story forever. It is not carelessly told. There is not a bit of fat in this writing, which (writer-to-writer) I admire with all my heart.

It also has the lean and tough styling of a different time. Maybe it’s because Hainey was channeling (and challenging) his own hard-boiled reporter of a father, but there is something classical and gritty about this prose, something very masculine and mid-century. You can smell the cigarettes and whiskey, and the perfumes of the alluring women in shadows, the aftershave and the sweat of an older generation. There are hints of Dashiell Hammett in certain of these paragraphs. And yet Michael Hainey himself is not of that generation, and so he allows himself to feel things more honestly than those guys ever did. Even as we watch him struggle to become a man (despite the lurching absence of a father) he not afraid to uncover his deepest sorrows. He is not afraid of his own heart, his own losses, his own desperate weakness. That combination of old-school tough and new-age open is what makes this story so beautifully wrought, and so unusual. On that same note, I also appreciated that extraordinary care Hainey took in describing his mother, who was also a victim in Hainey’s father’s death. In the search for the missing man in his life, Hainey has not neglected to also search for the missing woman—the woman who was standing in the kitchen the whole time, frustrated and somewhat invisible.

I can't say I’ve ever read anything quite like this. I can’t think of a thing I would want him to change, and there are parts of this story that will stay with me forever. I plan to buy it for all my male friends. I think it’s an incredibly important book about coming into one’s own. I finished it in tears.

From Booklist

When Hainey was 6, his father, a 35-year-old copydesk editor for the Chicago Sun-Times, died of an apparent heart attack on the street on his way home from work. Hainey’s uncle, also a newspaperman, came to the family home to deliver the news to his brother’s wife and two sons. While his father lived on in scrapbooks, his mother cobbled together a life for them, and Hainey grew into his father’s profession, becoming a reporter with a relentless sense that something was missing from the story of his father’s death. As he approached the age at which his father died, Hainey began an investigation, talking to family members and his father’s friends and colleagues. Hainey slowly pieces together his father’s last years and the secrets of his life, breaking through a code of silence that respected a dead man’s legacy but understood the reporter’s search for the truth. What would the truth mean for his family, for his mother and her curt explanations and gauzy memory? This is a beautifully written exploration of family bonds and the secrets that may test them. --Vanessa Bush

Product Details

  • File Size: 4410 KB
  • Print Length: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (February 19, 2013)
  • Publication Date: February 19, 2013
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B008J4E2PI
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,398 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James Hiller VINE VOICE on February 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Memoirs are memories, personal remembrances stored for a lifetime, eventually shared with the world in an intimate, devastating way. How an author would allow people to enter their lives, and examine it, is impressive, as is this can’t-put-down new book, “After Visiting Friends” by Michael Hainey.

When Michael was six, his thirty-five year old journalist father was found dead on the street, apparently of a heart attack. The story never registered as true with Michael, and as an adult, decides to use his journalism skills to investigate the death that happened decades earlier. What he lays out is an utterly fascinating account of the path he took to solve the mystery, and along the way, paints a picture of his family that is honest, and all together real.

The people Michael tells about are tightly drawn and all together real. His mother: widowed at an early age, not spared any sentiment or pity, but richly drawn as a person who did her best to shepherd her family through this event, on the surface never questioning her husband’s death. His grandmother: a strong wise woman succumbing to dementia.

Even more impressive are the people who Michael interviews along the way. One in particular resonated so strongly, she nearly dared to take over the story: Jan Scott, a receptionist in the Forensic Medicine building whose religion permeates her life and supports Michael in ways unpredictable. She’s a compelling character in a story with compelling characters.

These characters, these people, are compelling because of Hainey’s writing style. His prose is short, immediate, and present. He often writes without verbs, making the reading seem like lists, but it brings you right into the story and makes you feel like you are there.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I purchased this book after reading a strong review. While it was interesting, it was an 80 page story stretched to full length. I enjoy memoirs, mysteries, and family drama-- unfortunately, there was actually little content here. Long passages describing locations, and the "theoretical" passages in italics felt indulgent and a journalist's trick to create drama. The "secret" is no surprise, and the author's introspection feels forced -- like he's really trying too hard to write something "deep." Unfortunately, it wasn't. I'd recommend a library copy-- not worth purchasing.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I am a mother of two boys, ages 6 and almost 4.  I'm lucky to still have my husband's help in raising them.  I chose to read this book because when I read about it in Entertainment Weekly, it seemed like the kind of book I love to read.  I like memoirs about family dysfunction and tragedy because I hope I will learn how to rise above setbacks, how to deal with tragedies and dysfunction, what pitfalls to avoid and how to be a good parent.  I have had my share of traumas to overcome, so I am particularly interested in how others cope.  I have never lost a parent or anyone very close to me, however.

I agree with the other reviewers on the great writing, vivid details, and bygone but colorful language that immerse you in fascinating American history.  The book really made me think about so many different things, but I'll only touch upon the parenting and relationship part.

After I read this (Kindle version), and I read this in two days because I was engrossed in it, I was again reminded of how far-reaching a parent's influence is.  As a parent, you understand that you have an enormous responsibility to your children, but it's good to remember that one day your children will be fully grown adults and hopefully will still have a relationship with you- built upon the many conversations and experiences over decades.  Behavior and communication patterns established early might still be in place later, so make sure those patterns are working.  So, this book reminds me that you must help your children to understand things when they ask about tragedy- no matter how painful for you.  The author's mother did a wonderful job raising her children without her husband.  However, it seems that a lot of pain could have been alleviated if they could've talked more about the tragedy.
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Format: Hardcover
Like other reviewers, I decided to read this book based on the strength of its reviews. There is just not enough substance here to merit a full length book. Parts were interesting, but other parts were repetitive and read like filler.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If this was just a book about a reporter who goes back in time and figures out what happens to his dad who died when he was six, it would be a good book. If it was just a book about a guy who rediscovers his mom who raised him and his brother alone, it would be a good book. If it was just a book about newspapermen in Chicago in the 1970's, it would be a good book. If it was just a book about Chicago - the old and the new, it would be a good book. But this is a book about all those things woven into one compelling, page-turning story. Do yourself a favor. Buy the book and read it. Or get it from the library. Does not matter. Just read it. I predict this book will sit atop a lot of best seller lists for a long, long time.
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