Title: After Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story
Author: Michael Hainey
One early morning while Michael Hainey dressed for Kindergarten, his uncle Dick showed up at their modest Chicago home to tell Michael’s mother that her husband, a respected journalist, had died in the wee small hours of that same morning. Years later Michael read his father’s obituaries for a report and was struck by a few things that just seemed…off. For more than a decade the persistent ghost of his father was joined by the haunting feeling that Michael, his mother and his older brother hadn’t been told the truth. They knew Robert Hainey had an aneurysm burst as he was coming home from his night shift on the copy edit desk of the Chicago Sun Times. Yet the obituaries in Hainey’s own paper said that he’d died after visiting friends…
on the other side of Chicago.
Why was Robert Hainey “visiting friends” at 4:00am? What friends–if they were indeed friends at all–lived over there? And why had Richard Hainey felt the need to lie to the family yet print the truth in his newspaper?
I’d read a write-up on the book in Entertainment Weekly; friends told me there was also a story on NPR. The more I heard the more I was torn between curiosity and skepticism. I desperately wanted to know the truth about that mysterious death, but I also just really hate “Daddy Issues” stories. After five years of watching Jack Shepherd whinge about it on LOST and decades of characters in novels wittering on about it, there was also a pretty deep mystery about whether or not I would have the patience for yet another story about fathers and sons who don’t connect.
Curiosity won out, and I splurged eleven dollars on the Kindle Version once it wasn’t available at the library. (Silly me, expecting the Nashville Public Library to buy a book that didn’t have naked people embracing on the cover.) That was late Friday night, and I joked with Mandi that I wasn’t sure I’d have the review done since I had just downloaded the book.
I clicked the file open on my trusty Kindle Paperwhite and did not come up for air for three and a half hours.
I have been very fortunate in the last six months to have found many good books. My ratio of good reads to mediocre/bad reads has been much better lately, thanks in large part to a vast network of recommenders who are honest and enthusiastic about sharing exciting titles. So I can’t say I’ve had many bad reads.
The problem with that is that when I try to tell you how good this book is–no, how FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC this book is–I’m afraid I’ll come off like someone who just rates everything super high all the time. (“Oh, look! Kath’s turning into Harriet Klausner!”) After all, my review last week was a five-worm book. It was also “the most entertaining, thrilling, and captivating read of the last six months.”
So what superlatives are left? And will you believe that they are earnest reactions and not bandwagon hype? I honestly hope you will because this book was amazing. In searching for answers to who his father was and how and why he really died, Hainey takes us on a journey through the lost world of pre-Watergate journalism and mid-century newspapers, crisscrossing the Midwest as he hunts down leads. He takes us through his personal history, but he also serves as a docent to the history of journalism, railroads, Chicago and the Dust Bowl. Halfway through the novel you realise that Hainey has become a latter-day Virgil, taking the reader through the concentric circles of life as it spirals to the inevitable end. There is literally not one paragraph of the book that is dull or uninteresting or pointless or showy. Every word fits together as if it were made specifically to tell this story.
If you love mysteries, history, journalism, memoirs, then this is a book you will enjoy. If you’ve ever found yourself questioning God about why you are here, or found yourself wondering exactly how and why your life turned out this way, then you’ll find a kindred spirit in Hainey.
It goes without saying that this book is a five-bookworm read, but I’d also say that it’s one of the rare books I’d rate as “Beyond Five”.