- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Scribner (February 19, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1451676565
- ISBN-13: 978-1451676563
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 540 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #530,396 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story Hardcover – February 19, 2013
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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
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.
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
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After a lifetime writing for newspapers, I can’t decide if the drawbacks of the hard-boiled lifestyle outweigh the benefits of getting closer to the truth of things. In “After Visiting Friends” Michael Hainey approaches this conundrum by investigating the mysterious death of his journalist father decades earlier. Fearing what he might discover, he delays his inquiry until he is about the same age, 35, as his father was when he died “after visiting friends,” according to his obituary in the Chicago papers where he worked as a chief copy editor (slotman). Digging after the lapse of so many years to find out what really happened, Hainey goes through his family memories, resurrecting such long-distant characters as his quirky grandmother and reconnecting in a more intimate way with his mother. Hainey loved his father, whom he lost while in grade school, and he learns why so many others also loved him, and why they shielded his family from the details of his death.
For men who were adults in the Sixties and before, that thinking persisted which caused the author to run into many a brick wall trying to learn the truth about his father's life and death. Even given his own investigative skills, he had a hard time "cracking the case" and sometimes progress was more luck than anything else. What he discovered about his father's life changed his way of thinking about both of his parents.
This is a fascinating book. It's certainly one of the best-written, most in-depth studies of a family I've ever read and I read mostly memoirs. No intelligent person can read this book and not learn something about human nature and relationships.
There are some parts of the book that are well-written, but Michael Hainey descends too often into abrupt, jarring sentences that lack any verbs and good sentence structure. Nevertheless, the last third of the book improved and held my interest to some extent.
All families have secrets, and Michael Hainey's are not that unusual. I can think of other families, including my own, that have much more interesting stories to tell.
That said, I found the author's tortured, noir-ish writing style to be seriously distracting. The abrupt sentence structure (particularly the abundance of fragments) tend to add up to a whole lot of nothing:
"It was December. Winter. Cold. The kind of cold that leaves your teeth chattering. Teeth that were brushed earlier that morning. Minty fresh. Bracing. Dentist approved."
(That's not an actual quote, but it's not far off...)
I also picked this up after the glowing review in Entertainment Weekly, but ultimately I think it's just average.