It’s now been a couple of months since I read Michael Hainey’s first book, and to say it has stayed with me would be a colossal understatement. I think I’ve recommended this book now to scores of people, and if I had to do a top ten list of books I’ve read since starting this blog, “After Visiting Friends” would be near the top.
Hainey offers two introductory quotes on the first page of this, his memoir. The first is advice for journalists, attributed to a Chicago reporter named Edward Eulenberg: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” The second is Sophocles: “It is the dead, not the living, who make the longest demands.”
These two quotes set the stage for three stories in one: a mystery, an intensely personal memoir, and a mini-history of the newspaper industry in the seventies.
Hainey’s father was a newspaperman, a late-night editor who decided how the newspaper would look each night before going to press. His name was Bob Hainey, and when Michael was six, Bob died unexpectedly. Michael finds out from his uncle, who carefully shields the widow and her two children from the details of Bob’s death. Michael grows up to become a reporter and now editor for GQ, and he tries to find out what really happened to his father. He finds a small obituary that notes Bob died late at night “after visiting friends.” And the mystery begins to unfold.
This is a story told with grace. After each small moment, when Michael is stunned by a coincidence or helped by a stranger, the reader is awed by the mysticism of the entire story. The relationship between Michael and his mother is central to the book and it is described by the author with the wisdom of an old man. There are flashbacks, black and white photographs, and spectacular dialogue.
I want to tell you all about this book. But I won’t. Hainey writes a memoir with the suspense you would expect from a mystery novel. His interpretation of the “newspaper life” is incredible, and Hainey at once lionizes and demonizes it. Hainey’s description of his family will cut straight to your heart and the emotion of this book very well may leave you in tears at the end. (It did me.) You need to clear your schedule if you want to read this book—it is nearly impossible to put down.
Mostly, I just want to tell you to go read this magnificent book.
Thanks for reading.