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After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story

After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story

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After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story

4.5/5 (53 ratings)
330 pages
5 hours
Feb 19, 2013

Editor's Note

A terrific mash-up…

A terrific mash-up of memoir, mystery and family drama, “After Visiting Friends” is both a compelling story of a writer searching for the truth about his father and a time machine to 1960s Chicago.


This haunting story of a son’s quest to understand the mystery of his father’s death is “searing and unforgettable…memoir writing at its best” (San Francisco Chronicle)—a “powerfully affecting” (O, The Oprah Magazine) portrait of a family and its legacy of secrets.

“Family? Secrets? Sometimes I think they are the same thing.” So writes Michael Hainey in this unforgettable story of a son’s search to discover the decades-old truth about his father’s mysterious death. Hainey was a boy of six when his father, a bright and shining star in the glamorous, hard-living world of 1960s Chicago newspapers, died under mysterious circumstances. His tragic absence left behind not only a young widow and two small sons but questions about family and truth that would obsess Michael for decades.

Years later, Michael undertakes a risky journey to uncover the true story about what happened to his father. Prodding reluctant relatives and working through a network of his father’s old colleagues, Michael begins to reconcile the father he lost with the one he comes to know. At the heart of his quest is his mother, a woman of courage and tenacity—and a steely determination to press on with her life. A universal story of love and loss and the resilience of family in the face of hardship, After Visiting Friends is the account of a son who goes searching for his father, and in the journey discovers new love and admiration for his mother.
Feb 19, 2013

About the author

Michael Hainey is the deputy editor of GQ. He was born in Chicago and now lives in Manhattan.

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Inside the book

Top quotes

  • Maybe this is the way it would be, if Lourdes were real—the roadside littered not with cast-aside crutches, but with the shells of our former selves. Pilgrims all, reborn. Made new.

  • Three of us remained. Three atoms that retreat to the outer edges of our chamber. A nuclear family flawed, reduced. We drift apart.

  • How his death hung over that house.It’s part of what I know to be true—your absence is greater than your presence.

  • Your absence is greater than your presence. Presence is fleeting. Presence is easy. But absence? That’s eternal. The great constant.

  • Well, sort of. There are no trinkets. No furs. No wampum. Instead, each has made a card for my brother.

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After Visiting Friends - Michael Hainey

More praise for


Hainey is a tremendously talented writer. He has written a thrilling page-turner, in a style that is personally reflective and meticulously reported. His prose is crisp and efficient—poetic even.

—David Bernstein, Chicago magazine

"Since the age of six, Michael Hainey had been haunted by the mysterious death of his father, a Chicago newspaperman. In After Visiting Friends he recounts in moving detail the obstacles he faced in uncovering the truth."

—Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair

A well-reported story, beautifully told . . .

—Craig Wilson, USA Today

Hainey beautifully recounts the bustling history of 1960s Chicago and scrappy newspaper culture. . . . Written in a spare, sparkling style, Hainey’s memoir feels less like a gushing confessional and more like an elegiac poem.

—Rachel Syme,

"[A] terrific memoir . . . Hainey’s representation of his mother bursts with love and awe. . . . The questions of family, loyalty and truth emerge in After Visiting Friends and will resonate with just about everyone. The surprise—for Hainey and the reader—is recognition of the compassion behind the cover-up."

—Angela Matano, Campus Circle

"After Visiting Friends is full of love for the lost world of nocturnal newspaper work and after-hours boozing."

—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"[After Visiting Friends] moves with the pace of a thriller. . . . It’s both tenderhearted and tough. Michael Hainey is blessed with his father’s writing chops, his mother’s steely resolve and his own, hard-won wisdom."

—Dan Cryer, Newsday

Hainey’s sharp prose and attention to detail are impeccable. . . . We want Hainey to find the truth that will finally bring him peace, even as we don’t want Hainey’s marvelous exercise in journalistic memoir to come to an end.

—Jason Diamond, Bookforum

Hacking through the tangles of conspiracy and silence, Hainey is as dogged as Marlowe or Spade, but his path is illuminated by a warmth of spirit those sleuths lacked.

—Chris Wallace, The Daily Beast

"Part what next? detective story, part moving family portrait, and part wistful ode to the whiskey-sloshed mid-century Chicago newspaper world . . ."

—Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly

"In a sea of self-discovery memoirs, After Visiting Friends stands out for its level of journalistic inquiry."

—Rafi Kohan, The New York Observer

Peering into an uncomfortable past, the journalist traces his family’s history with dramatic, highly readable prose that makes the story feel like a compelling mystery.

Time Out New York

Captivating and poignant . . .

—Randy Dotinga, The Christian Science Monitor

"After Visiting Friends is a devastating, heat-seeking, investigative search for the truth. . . . The gorgeousness of Hainey’s prose turns the search into an interior odyssey, to the limits of memory, to expiring minds that can no longer account for their undoing, to the dreams applied to family members who are no longer there."

—Christopher Bollen, Interview

"[After Visiting Friends is] an elegy to a vanished era of newspapering."

—Michael Miner, Chicago Reader

"Hainey’s recollection of a childhood defined by his father’s absence is haunting. . . . Hainey’s candor in After Visiting Friends, especially about the self-doubt and frustration that accompany his quest, makes it easy for us to root for him—not just in the search for truth but in the emotional transformation that comes with it."

—Ron Hogan, Shelf Awareness

A stirring book . . .

—Kay Johnson, Hutchinson Leader

A beautifully written exploration of family bonds and the secrets that may test them.

—Vanessa Bush, Booklist

[A] heartfelt memoir . . .

Publishers Weekly

Hainey’s writing is balletic, nimbly avoiding both sentimentality and sensationalism, making grief and absence into powerful and fully felt forces. His short scenes appear like flashes of memory, prose poems of what once was, and he skillfully weaves a narrative that transcends his own and spans generations. . . . Part elegy, part mystery and wholly unforgettable.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11


Reading Group Guide

Photo Captions


About Michael Hainey

To Brooke

If your mother says she loves you, check it out.


It is the dead, not the living, who make the longest demands.




I was home from school, visiting my grandmother in Chicago, when she told me this story, a story that involved an old Polish custom: When a boy has his first birthday, his family sits him in his high chair, and on the tray before him they place three objects—


Shot glass


Whatever the boy chooses, my grandmother says to me, that will be his life.

And I? I said. What did I choose?

You? she says. You slammed your fist on the tray, sent everything scattering to the ground. There was your mother, on her knees, searching, cursing you and all the pieces she couldn’t find.

I never heard that story.

There’s lots of stories you haven’t heard.


Even when I was a kid, and the holiday dinner was over, the plates pushed aside and the adults having coffee and the kolaczki that my grandmother always made, I’d linger at the table, ask her questions about the old days. How, when my mother was a young girl they had no money for medicine, so if she had a sore throat, my grandmother would make mashed potatoes, roll them in a dish towel, and put them on my mother’s neck. A hot compress. Or she’d tell me how my mother learned to play the accordion from Mr. Carnevale, down the block. Every Saturday, wrestling her instrument into her red wagon, pulling it to his studio on 63rd Street.

Once, some years ago, we were sitting around my mother’s kitchen table playing cards—my mother, my grandmother, and me; the matriarchy and me. (My grandfather was dead by now, and my father had died years earlier.) I asked my grandmother what it was like when she first got married. This was 1934. Middle of the Great Depression. They said their vows on Thanksgiving, so they could cobble together a four-day weekend and call it their honeymoon, such as it was. My grandfather was the only one working in his family—supporting his parents and his eight brothers and sisters—so he was unable to take any time off for the wedding, let alone a honeymoon. Not that they had the money to. Eighteen months later, my mother was born.

My grandmother tells me that she and my grandfather were so poor that they could not afford a crib for my mother, and for the first year she slept in an old dresser drawer.

Sometimes at night I’d tuck your momma in and then Grampa and I would go to the corner tavern and have a beer. Cost a nickel. That was our Friday night.

Wait, my mother says. You left me home in the drawer? Alone?

You weren’t alone, my grandmother tells her.

Who was watching me? my mother asks.


My mother slams her hand on the table, gets up, and starts washing dishes.

My grandmother looks at me. What’s she so hot about?


One Christmas Eve, I had driven my grandmother and grandfather home. We’re sitting at the kitchen table, a bowl of pears between us, ripening green to yellow. My grandparents are telling me a story about the old neighborhood, and they can’t agree on when the story happened. My grandfather taps his finger softly on the table, three times, and says, No, it was 1917. I know because it was the summer we hanged the kaiser in effigy.

You’re right, my grandmother says. There was a parade through the neighborhood, and we strung him up on a streetlight in front of Saint Adalbert’s. Lit a big fire out of trash.

And I’m sitting there, thinking: How many people remain who can speak the sentence It was the summer we hanged the kaiser in effigy?

Her parents were from Krakow. Crack-oov is how she’d say it. She told me that her father tuned organs in a church there. They ended up in Chicago. Back of the Yards neighborhood. Poles. Germans. Austrians. What my grandfather called Bohunks and Polacks, all of us.

Her father ran a corner store. Canned goods. Boxes of basics. Shelves of staples for the families who washed up on the block. Families of men who worked the slaughterhouses—the Chicago Union Stock Yards. For a good hundred years, there was nothing like it on earth. An entire square mile of Chicago, devoted to butchering cattle and hogs or any other beast a man could ship from America’s hinterlands—our prairies and plains—turning it into canned meat, churning all of it into the bounty of America. This was the land of Swift, the kingdom of Armour. Chicago as the disassembly line. Chicago—how fast and how efficiently a creature could be reduced. Rendered. Broken down.

On summer nights, when the wind blew off the lake, the stench of death and dung hung over the whole city. My grandmother told me that some nights in her bed, she’d be awakened by what she called the sad groaning—beasts in the dark, all those miles away. Chicago.

That was them. Running their store and living in a small apartment in the back of it: my grandmother, her baby sister, her father and mother. That is, until her brother is born and their mother dies in the bedroom, giving birth. Her father pushed the baby into my grandmother’s hands, the baby still bloody, said, Here.

Then he got drunk.

My grandmother was left to raise her sister and her baby brother. A year later, when my grandmother was twelve, her father found a new wife—Sally. Sally was sixteen. Sally turned my grandmother’s father against her, and the day that my grandmother turned fifteen, she left, took a job cleaning houses for some rich people. But she persevered. To me, perseverance is the great trait. She taught me that.

I was in my thirties when I told my grandparents I wanted to see the old neighborhood. This was March. Thick of Lent. We get in my mother’s Buick. Chunks of rotting snow cling to the edge of the road, crusted over with carbon. Looking like they were smeared with newsprint. News of days long past, forgotten.

When we get to the old neighborhood, I round a corner and hear my grandfather from the backseat.

Black Betty lived in that house. Olive skin. Give her a quarter and she’d let you lie with her in the weedy lot.

In the rearview mirror, I see my grandmother elbow him.

What? he says. I never done it. But it’s true. That’s the story I heard.

I want to see Saint Adalbert’s, where they were married. One of those hulking masses of soot-stained stone, the kind they always tell you was built by immigrants’ pennies and nickels—and as we start walking up the steps my grandmother freezes. She’s been holding my arm to steady herself on the icy steps, but now she’s tightened her grip. She tells me she’s thinking of when her mother died and men shouldered her coffin from their house through the streets, to the church.

When the guys carrying my mother’s casket got here, they set it down on the steps right here and opened it. ‘Final viewing,’ the priest said. I was standing next to her casket, and when I look down at my mother, I saw her face move. I thought she was alive. And I tug my father’s sleeve. Oh, I was so happy. I thought, God has heard me. And then my father says, ‘Look again.’ And you know what it was? Little worms. They’d already started.

She looks at me. Her bottom lip trembles.

We couldn’t afford to preserve her.

#  #  #

Years later, I was home from New York one October when I went to see my grandmother. Over the past few months, she had been deteriorating. Mentally. In the span of six months she’d gone from living on her own to being in a nursing home. Or assisted living, as they call it now. She was in Central Baptist Village. Not that she’s Baptist. But it was closer to my mother’s house than any Catholic place, and my grandmother agreed to it.

Moving her was hard on my mother. Not just the packing up of my grandmother’s house, winnowing down her possessions, but the stress and strain of being responsible for her. I’d hear it in our phone calls.

That morning, my mother asks me to take an afghan to my grandmother.

I think she needs an extra blanket, she says.

The afghan is the same one that we had in the basement when I was a boy, the one my brother and I wrapped ourselves in when we watched reruns on the TV—our Zenith. My grandmother knit the afghan years ago, for my mother. Over the years, my grandmother has knit too many afghans to count. She makes them as wedding gifts. Somewhere in my mother’s basement there is one she knit for me. I can’t wait forever, honey child, she told me when I caught her knitting mine. You’re forty. The way you’re going, who knows how long it’ll be.


On my way to see her, I stop at Fannie May, the candy store. I get a small mixed assortment. A blustery, chill day. Fall, advancing on Chicago. Leaves—yellow, rain-battered, pulled down in the night—cling to cars and the damp blacktop.

I find her in the Common Room. A bunch of gray tufts and bald, liver-spotted heads seated in a semicircle. At the center, a heavy woman in white pants and a purple smock. The woman is leading them in group exercises, getting them to raise their arms over their heads, move their limbs in small circles.

Let’s repeat our vowels, she says, A, E, I, O, U.

From the group, a murmuring. Ehh . . . Eee . . . Eye . . . Oh . . . Ewe.

With each vowel, they lower their arms a few inches. They look like aged mariners, sending semaphore. Signaling to ships in the mist somewhere out at sea.

Eighty, ninety years ago, these people are sitting in a schoolroom, in the same messy half circle, being led through the same drill—minus the arm exercises. And here they are now, on the other side of life. Trying to hold on to what they learned so long ago.

I walk over and touch her shoulder. I’m prepared for her not to recognize me. Her eyes, all exaggerated behind her glasses, try to focus on me. She takes my hand.

Michael . . . 


We walk the long hallway to her room. She leans on her walker, plows ahead, slowly. I walk beside her, my hand on the small of her curved back. She’s like an old car—she drifts left—so I have to ease her away from the wall.

Look at me, she says. I’m just a skeleton. I should go trick-or-treating. I’d scare ’em all good, I would.

Her room has two single beds, hospital types, made to be raised up, angled. The bed near the door is unmade, waiting. On it, the Sunday Tribune sits unread. The bed beneath the window is my grandmother’s. On the nightstand are two photo albums my brother’s son made for her. Moments of her life, he told me they were, to help her remember. My nephew is eight.

To the right of the bed, there’s an armoire. On it, someone has taped a piece of paper, computer-printed:



She maneuvers to the bed. There’s a wheelchair in the corner and I pull it up, sit toe-to-toe with her.

I brought you a trick-or-treat, I say, and I place the box on her lap.

For a minute, she holds the box and gazes at it, then hands it back to me.

Can I have one? she asks.

I give her a chocolate cream. She raises it to her mouth. A tongue emerges, takes the candy. Like a tortoise I saw at the zoo. She bites, almost in slow motion, chews so slowly I swear I can feel her tasting it.

She asks, Why’d you bring me candy?

I told you, I say. Halloween.

She says, Is it Halloween? I can’t remember.

As I put the candy on the nightstand, I notice a piece of paper. That’s my bedtime reading, she says to me.

It’s a pamphlet from Resurrection Cemetery. Inside, there is a form filled out. My grandfather’s burial record:



LOT: 13



That’s going to be my address soon, my grandmother says. I read that every night before I go to bed so that if I don’t wake up, I know where to go. I don’t want Saint Peter putting me on the wrong bus. Grave four. Right next to my little Franta. Sixty-seven years we were married, Mike.

Her head droops down, chin against her chest. I reach out, my hand under her chin. Raise her head. Tears are in her eyes, and I wipe them with my fingers.

I wish it were over, Mike. People weren’t meant to live this long.

Did you take your pills today? I say to her.


Ninety-five years old, and she’s on antidepressants. What’s the world come to? I think.

Truth is, she never got over my grandfather’s dying. That whole year after, she’d sit at the kitchen table and cry, stare out the shutters.

She reaches out, takes my hands in hers.

Warm my hands, she says. They’re cold.

She slips her hands inside my cupped hands. Her hands like two small mammals burrowing inside a hollow, hunkering down against each other, against the coming freeze.

I used to worry about you, she says, but I don’t anymore. You’re over the wall.

What’s the wall?




April 24, 1970. Friday morning. The sun, searing the shade, my brother’s and mine. We share a room. Twin beds above the kitchen, side by side. Headboards against the wall beneath the window that looks down on a tiny cement patio. A small house next to an alley next to a grocery-store parking lot. Kroger.

Scraggly forsythias divide our alley from the parking lot. Fragile yellow flowers the color of Peeps pop on the thin branches. Mostly the branches catch the trash that forever swirls in our lot. Flyers and circulars. Papers.

This is on the Far Northwest Side, a block from the Kennedy Expressway, in the shadow of O’Hare.

#  #  #

My mother’s hand on my shoulder. Time for school, she says.

She wears a blue robe and pale blue slippers that look like sandals. She is thirty-three, thin with frosted brunette hair and deep, heavy-lidded almond-shaped brown eyes and a tight mouth. She looks like Queen Elizabeth. It’s like they’re twins in time. Pick a photo of Elizabeth from any year and lay a photo of my mother next to it. Sisters, you’d say. Especially in the mouth and eyes. Same hair, too. My mother has always wished her hair were curlier, that it had more body. For years, my grandmother gave her a perm every few months, my mother hanging her head in our cold gray washtub.

The doorbell rings. My mother says, Who could that be?

She walks to the window and raises the shade.

What the hell are they doing here? she says.

Below, my grandfather and grandmother, my uncle Dick and aunt Helen, are standing on the porch in the shadow of our honey locust tree, its tiny leaves fluttering in the breeze.

My mother walks out.

From the air vents along the floorboards my brother and I can hear the adults in the kitchen below. No words. Just sounds.

I remember exactly what happens when I get into that kitchen—and every moment afterward. But sitting with my brother on the edge of our beds in our pajamas, that bright morning in April, him eight and me six—even now I feel like I’m imagining it.

My brother and I pause at the top of the stairs. Then there we are, on the edge of the living room.

The boys are here, Uncle Dick says.

He pushes us forward, into the kitchen. The sun is bright. The linoleum white and cold on my bare feet. My mother sits at the kitchen table, in the chair she will sit in the rest of her life. Her chair to solve the Jumble. Her crosswords chair. Her chair for solitaire. My grandmother stands behind her, a handkerchief’d fist to her mouth.

My mother reaches out. Come over here.

She sets us on her chair, my brother and me, side by side. We’re still that small.

Your dad is dead.

Her eyes are red but she is not crying. It’s going to be okay, she says. We’ll be fine.

She hugs us. And as I sit there, crushed against my brother, held tight by my mother’s arm, I can feel, against my chest, my brother’s chest, quivering. I struggle to pull back from my mother’s embrace.

He’s crying.

In that moment I think only one thing: how excited I am. Because my whole life up until then, my brother has never cried. Whenever I have cried, he’s always teased me, told me I was a baby. I point at him and start to laugh and I say, Crybaby! Crybaby!



My father was the night slot man. That’s a newspaper term. From the time he is a young boy of six or seven in Dust Bowl Nebraska, back in the Depression, all he wants is to work in newspapers. All he wants is to escape, to get to Chicago and be a newspaperman, just like his brother.

My dad’s name is Bob. He idolizes his brother, who is twelve years older. His brother’s name is Dick.

Their father was many things, but mostly he was a switchman and, when called upon, a griever. Those are railroad terms. Their father passes most of his life in the windblown rail yard of McCook, a town barely bigger than an afterthought. Day after day, he couples and uncouples strings of boxcars and then waits for the engines that will come to pull them apart or carry them away.

At eight, my father gets a job as a paperboy, delivering the Omaha World-Herald. In high school, he edits The Bison, the school paper. Come graduation in 1952, the Omaha World-Herald declares him one of Nebraska’s brightest newsboys—who has worked his route with diligence and dedication. They give him a Carrier’s Scholarship—$150. He also earns a $450 scholarship from Northwestern University and uses it to attend the Medill School of Journalism, just like Dick, who is by now an editor at the Tribune. Dick delivers the address at my father’s commencement. The Omaha World-Herald runs a story headlined TWO BROTHERS GET ATTENTION AT MCCOOK HIGH GRADUATION. The editors print head shots of Dick and my father. Beneath them, a caption: Richard, Robert . . . Speaker, Listener.

Five years later, in May 1957, my father graduates with a master’s degree in journalism. A few days after commencement, he packs up his room in a boardinghouse run by an Armenian woman on Foster Street. A Sigma Nu fraternity brother drives him and his suitcases down to Chicago’s Union Station, where he boards the Burlington Zephyr, bound to McCook.

He doesn’t want to go back

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What people think about After Visiting Friends

53 ratings / 32 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (5/5)
    The best indicator of how much I liked this book is the fact that I finished it about 48 hours after receiving it from the publisher (thanks to Early Reviewers!). I read it at work, standing up in the kitchen while making dinner, and in the carpool line to pick up the kids at school. Seriously. It's that much of a page turner. Michael Hainey has a talent for storytelling and has perfected the slow reveal. He draws nuanced portraits of his family and of the newspaper "game" in 1960s Chicago, which is difficult to separate from family, in his case -- both his uncle and his father were newspapermen. I'm not spoiling the memoir by telling you that Hainey's father died under what he grows to believe were suspicious circumstances, in 1971 -- it's the central theme of the story. Hainey does a masterful job of conveying the impact this early loss had on his life, without "whining" -- which seems to be difficult to manage in many memoirs. Just a terrific read!
  • (5/5)
    There are several layers to journalist Michael Hainey’s memoir, After Visiting Friends. The main plot is an exercise in investigative journalism: Hainey’s father died suddenly and mysteriously “after visiting friends” in the early hours of an April morning in 1972. His son Michael was only six years old at the time. What really happened, and why is it that Hainey’s father’s surviving friends—all hard-boiled newspapermen-- refuse to share what they know about the incident with his son, even after so many years? But there is more to this memoir than just the unraveling of its central mystery. Hainey recalls with sensitivity and compassion his mother’s struggles as a widow with two young boys, the death of his aged grandmother, and even the lonely demise of a stranger who figures into the story. Hainey is likewise honest about his own fears of marriage and issues of religious faith and doubt.Unlike many readers, who commented that they "couldn't put the book down," I found After Visiting Friends a little slow in spots, especially at the beginning. But my perseverance was rewarded with a moving tale of a son's reconnection with the father he lost long ago.I received a free copy of After Visiting Friends from LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.
  • (5/5)
    Very very good memoir by Michael Hainey. His father died when he was 5 years old - After Visiting Friends - but something never quite added up for him. His father was a very local well known newspaperman who died under odd circumstances. Michael - now also a journalist - decides to find out what really happened. First clue are the 3 different obituaries. Alot of the people who would "know" what happened (family members, coworkers) are either not talking or have also passed away. In addition, he doesn't know whether to reveal what he's doing or what he finds out to his mother.Very well written, thought out and I hope that he has found peace with his discoveries.
  • (4/5)
    I enjoyed this book about a son's journey to learn about his father's death. It was encouraging to see how open his father's friends and family were to sharing stories about his father, even those who were not willing to talk about his death. Since Hainey was so young when his father passed away it is brave how he goes about learning about the person he never really knew. This is a good book about the complicated relationships within a family.
  • (4/5)
    Thirty-five year old Robert Hainey died of an aneurysm on a street in Chicago in 1970, leaving a wife and two sons, eight and six. Michael Hainey was the six year old, and as he grew older, he became more and more curious about the circumstances surrounding his father's death. Michael is a journalist, just as his father was, and he begins an investigation into what really happened that night. Using journalistic techniques, and struggling to break down the walls built up by his father's friends on the Sun-Times, he finds his answers, and learns a little more about his family in the bargain.This was a great story, and curiosity kept me reading. But I deducted a full star, because there were too many partial sentences, and I find that extremely distracting in a book. I would recommend it for the story, but be forewarned if that sort of thing bothers you.
  • (4/5)
    The idea behind After Visiting Friends is compelling: Hainey, the son of a newspaper man and a journalist himself, launches an investigation into the circumstances of his father's death after noticing inconsistencies in the story.

    He talks to surviving relatives, friends of the family, and his father's coworkers, and takes a few trips to flesh out the story. While describing the steps he took to find out more about his father's death, he also recounts personal memories and family history.

    The secrets he uncovers throughout his journey to find the truth are not spy novel material, and the investigation is a low-key, meandering affair, but the story overall is an interesting window into the sixties- and seventies-era newspaper world, and it's a good read.

    Hainey does have a style that takes a little while to get used to -- short bursts of words, fragments, brief sentences tapped out between longer sentences -- so After Visiting Friends was a slow starter for me. A few chapters in, I warmed up to it, and once that happened, I couldn't put the book down.

    (three-and-a-half stars)
  • (2/5)
    Quick read, didn't really like the writing style, but I did connect with the author and his story. My father died when I was young so many of his thoughts/memories resonated with me.
  • (4/5)
    When Bob Hainey died in his 30s, his son Michael was just six years old. Growing up, Michael had lots of questions about his father’s death, but the subject of Bob’s death was a taboo topic. Now a magazine editor at GQ– his father was a newspaper copy editor – the son channels his curiosity into finding the truth about his father’s death. After Visiting Friends is the second book I’ve read recently that dealt with a son seeking his father’s story. In Bringing Mulligan Home, author Dale Maharidge sought out the story of his father’s service in the Pacific during World War II – and the demons that haunted him all his life. That book focused on the investigation and the World War II vets who helped the author along the way. After Visiting Friends is much different. It is, true to its subtitle, “a son’s story,” a memoir of the author’s life as it relates to his family of birth, and his search for the truth about his father’s death as a way of exorcising his own demons. The writing is very “stream of consciousness.” Short sentences. Fragments. Abrupt transitions. That’s a great choice for a memoir and a type of writing I enjoy reading. In this book, however, the only thing missing was (ironically) a copy editor. Readers who demand lean writing may find the going tough. Although the results of the investigation were a tad predictable, and the denouement fell flat (that, of course, isn't the author's fault), I found the After Visiting Friends engaging and would recommend it. I found the insights about newspapering in the Haineys' day insightful. Review based on Early Reviewer copy provided by the publisher.
  • (5/5)
    The book is a well-written memoir about Michael Hainey's search to find out the truth behind his father's death at the age of 35. Michael was 6 years old at the time. I could not put this book down and finished it way too soon. Hainey introduces us gently to all the important people in his life from his Polish grandmother to strangers who were very important to his father's life and thus to Michael. His writing is humorous, poignant, and honest. Both Michael and his father, Bob, are journalists and Michael's skills are evident in both the reporting of his search and the beautiful way he tells the story.
  • (5/5)
    "After Visiting Friends" is many things: a mystery, a memoir, a love story about family, a tribute.Above all, it is brilliant writing.Often when I read memoirs I'm wondering, "Why was this material for a book?"But with "After Visiting Friends," all I could think was, "I don't want this to end."Hainey manages to be both a subjective observer and compassionate participant in the story of his family. I love that he's never maudlin or sentimental, and there's never a moment of self-pity here, but you can always feel the tremors of loss - for the father's life because it was so short, for the questions he left unanswered, for the presence he would never have in the lives of his family. It's as though one is looking for some place and is asked to create his own map, with only the beginning point - and a blurry one at that - clearly marked.Hainey's writing is so engaging I always felt as though I were right beside him as he went in search of answers. I especially loved his descriptions of his grandmother.I was caught off guard by the tenderness in the end, when he speaks with his mother.Absolutely beautiful.
  • (5/5)
    Beautifully written and a page-turner all at the same time. The language was so direct and thoughtful I felt as if Hainey and I were having an intimate conversation. My only complaint, and this is a little ridiculous given that it's a memoir, is that after all the suspenseful build-up what actually happened to his father felt like a letdown.But all in all I loved this book.
  • (4/5)
    This was one of those family memoirs that I thought I would either really like or find tedious, revolving as it did around a secret that the author is trying discover within his family history. Happily, this was a book I truly enjoyed; I essentially read it in one sitting, never quite being able to put it down. Michael Hainey details in this book his research into the true circumstances of his father's death, when Michael himself was only 6, one evening "after visiting friends." The investigation leads him to talk to newspaper coworkers of his father's as well as others who knew the man, and to the discovery of a tightly bound newspaper-work culture determined to protect its own. The discoveries Hainey makes are as much about his mother as about his father, and while not all conclusions are as neat and satisfying as in fiction, the journey does come to an effective end. It's a book I'm glad to have been inspired to read.
  • (4/5)
    Michael Hainey's father died young and, according to the obits, alone on a street at night. Hainey follows in his father's footsteps by becoming a newspaperman. As a reporter, Hainey is determined to learn the full story of his father's death. Excellent reporting requires excellent investigation skills. After Visiting Friends proves Hainey's ability to objectively report the facts while still telling a personal story. It's a very heart-warming story told through conversations and memory. Hainey invites the reader to follow him across the country and into the homes of family, friends, and many new acquaintances. As he searches for the truth about his father, he becomes much closer to his mother - the one person who may not be able to accept that truth.
  • (4/5)
    I very much enjoyed this book, part memoir and part thriller. It is the story of a man trying to figure out the riddle of his father's death, while discovering who his father was, and putting his own life, mortality, mother and family into context. His mother is great. There is some things she says that produce some genuine laugh out loud moments. Chicago is a supporting character which is always a plus. Definitely worth the read.
  • (5/5)
    AFTER VISITING FRIENDSMichael Hainey’s appreciation of a good story becomes apparent from the very first chapter - and I was hooked. He set the foundation of trust and spirit of understanding on which his search for the truth of his father’s death would be built. He searched and questioned with a deep if not completely clear understanding of the human mind and heart. Relationships have often been likened to quilts and tapestries. Considering the generations and cultures in the makeup of Michael’s family, I will glom onto the quilt concept; the quilt that rashly combines silks and denims; fragile, thin cottons and aged sateens that occasionally catch the light and reveal an original radiance. Stitches of aging thread that provide varying degrees of tension between the equally aging pieces.Michael makes the reader privvy to the grandson/grandmother/mother relationships; the shared stories and observations of family quirks; factual comments casually dropped by the grandmother; the wariness tempered by respectful tenderness in the mother/son relationship. How does one sift out the facts and truth in a history that that has been somewhat distorted by people protecting their own? Does the truth even hold the same power after being buried for decades? When we find the truth, we may have simply uncovered new truths...with the real truth revealed in the tensions we were afraid to face. Michael’s father had his demons. He was a man with a passion for his job, and an inner torment he could face only in living a facade. In the end, perhaps the real hero is the person who knew of the demons and kept them at bay from the children.I couldn’t put this book down until I was done...and even then it haunted 2/2013
  • (5/5)
    Like any good reporter, Michael Hainey (who actually works for GQ) wants the truth, especially when the truth as he knows it is full of strange inconsistencies; even more so when the truth involves the details surrounding the tragic death of his own father,Michael was only six years old when his father, respected newspaper man Bob Hainey, died of an apparent heart attack "after visiting friends." What friends, Michael has always wondered. Even more curious - friends and family are tight lipped about that night and the details in different newspapers don't add up. Pretty ironic for a newspaper man's obituary. Was it really a heart attack when another reputable paper called it a cerebral hemorrhage?Growing up, no wanted to talk to Michael about that night, no matter how many times he asked. As an adult Michael decided to write a book about his father and in doing so provided people with the opening to start talking. Little by little Michael finally uncovers the truth. What he discovers is not earth shattering for the rest of the world. These things happen all the time. But, back then there was a different kind of fierce loyalty between friends, family, and even newspaper men.Throughout Michael's investigation he is forced to consider and examine his relationships with family. His grandmother, with whom he has always felt a special bond; his brother, now a family man himself; his mother who has always kept a stiff upper lip and refused to show weakness; and lastly, his father, the hero he wanted to be like who turned out to be human after all.It is fair to say that I couldn't put this down. How terrible is it to have a haunting that lasts your entire childhood? What is worse is the truth; forcing yourself to not only be responsible for uncovering it but accepting it as well.
  • (5/5)
    Compelling and touching story of the author's search for his father within the sterile confines of his family. After his father's death, it was as though he never existed and Hainey became curious as he got older and things didn't add up. This is very well written and leads the reader through the practical and emotional aspects of this difficult journey. It was quite sad to read of the lives of people who had so much promise but suffered as the result of his father's early death.
  • (4/5)
    Very touching and sad at the same time, I lost my father with I was three years old so I could really relate to this mans feelings. Mine was not lost in such a mysterious way but it still difficult to lose a parent when you are too young to really remember anything about them.
  • (5/5)
    A poignant story about a sons difficult and frustrating search for the truth of the death of his father. He was just a child when his dad died. None of his fathers friends or co-workers would tell him the truth about the night his father died. His uncle and police spun a story so as to save the family the truth. The story didn't make sense and no one questioned it. But the obits in the various newspapers didn't all tell the same story which was suspicious to the son. So he started investigating.
  • (5/5)
    I really connected with this book. I live in the Chicagoland area and know of some of the places that Michael Hainey talks about in this book. My mother would tell me stories about her childhood growing up on the South side of Chicago in the 60's and 70's and some of the stories that Hainey writes about his childhood are similar to my mother's (the smell of the meat-packing plants, playing kick-the-can, the riots during the Democratic Convention). I am almost certain that in this book Hainey mentions my great-grandfather on my father's side (well he doesn't mention him by name but I figured it out). I believe that when he mentions the man that they called "The Greek" that his mother and father used to buy "greasy sandwiches" from that it was my great-grandfather. From what I know of his life he ran a little shack in that exact area in those years that Hainey's father and mother worked for The Tribune.I was captivated by Hainey's quest to find out what really happened the night his father died. It was heartbreaking to see how it ended up affecting him throughout his life but I liked getting to see the peace it brought him to learn the truth. I would highly recommend this book to others, especially to book clubs.
  • (4/5)
    A nice book for father's day. A story about a man's quest to learn more about his father... a father who died at a young age when the author was just a boy. The book is funny, poignant, and made me cry a few times -- thinking about my own father, my own family. A few too many side trips slow down the quest, but overall, a nice read.
  • (5/5)
    This book was not quite what I expected after skimming a couple of reviews; I think it was even better. Michael Hainey's father, a Chicago newspaperman, died in 1970 when the younger Hainey was six years old and his brother two years older. Little was said about him after that, or about the manner of his death -- just that he had had a heart attack at 35. As Michael grew up and became a journalist himself, various parts of the story did not add up. When he reached the age at which his father had died, he began to investigate in earnest, After many difficulties, he learned the truth -- or rather, many truths.After Visiting Friends kept me fascinated from beginning to end. It's not only the story of a great family history investigation, but a meditation on fathers and sons, and the larger topic of family. With side trips to Nebraska and California, it's also a great Chicago story. Very highly recommended.
  • (4/5)
    Michael Hainey was barely six years old when his 35-year-old father was found dead on a deserted Chicago street. Consequently, most of what Hainey knows about his father came to him second-hand via stories and "facts" delivered by his mother, older brother, and other relatives and friends of his father.Bob Hainey, Michael's father, truly was the stereotypical Hollywood version of a big city newspaperman. Hard drinking, chain smoking, regularly working to the early hours of the morning, he was as likely as not to end his work day at a private party hosted by a co-worker or some obscure friend-of-a-friend. Michael's mother, if she was unhappy about her marriage, hid it from her two sons. And, when her husband was suddenly snatched from her, it was up to her, and only her, to hold the family together. But Barbara Hainey would not talk about what happened on the night her husband died.The Hainey men are drawn to, and have a distinct talent for, the world of newspaper journalism. Michael's Uncle Dick was the first in the family to make his mark at a Chicago newspaper and he was instrumental in giving Bob his start in the business. Now, years later, Michael has followed his father and uncle into the family business. And he wants to know exactly how is father died - and why - something no one is very anxious to help him figure out.So Michael Hainey does what an investigative reporter does best: he investigates the "mystery" surrounding Bob Hainey's sudden death at the age of 35. What was his father doing in a strange neighborhood, not one he had any reason to be in at that time of the night; who found him; what exactly did he die of; and, most curious of all, who are the "friends" he was reportedly visiting that night and why had none of them ever stepped forward to explain how his father ended up on the street all alone?It would not be easy, but Michael Hainey is a persistent man and he was determined to find the answers about his father and what happened on that fateful night. What he hoped to learn had the potential to destroy his idealized image of the father he barely remembered. Michael knew that. But he had to know the truth. Then he had to decide whether he should share that truth with his mother and brother.After Visiting Friends is an intriguing memoir about the real truth pertaining to those closest to us - and whether we might be better, or worse, for knowing that truth. Considering Bob Hainey's lifestyle, what Michael learned about his father is not really all that surprising. The big surprise is how those around him react to both his search for the truth and what he finally learns about his father.
  • (3/5)
    I feel like I missed something in this book. I never really got why the author felt compelled to track down the story of his father's death. His mother was not inclined to talk about it and most of those in the know about the specifics were dead by the time Michael Hainey began his search for information. It was a poignant story, but just didn't resonate with me at all.
  • (5/5)
    When you consider just how many people there are in this world, growing up with one parent missing for any number of reasons, Michael Hainey's memoir is heartbreaking but fascinating to see how much of his life was spent being absorbed and really overwhelmed with all of the questions he had about his father's death. The memoir is almost page-turning as he moves through the mystery of the loss of his father---the who, what, where, when and why of an investigative reporter's approach to a question. Beautifully written, painful and honest.
  • (3/5)
    Interesting and, for the most part, well written...but just not so captivating. I think the author beat around the bush more than I would have liked.
  • (4/5)
    A son who remembers -is haunted by- his father's sudden death, and his journey to discover all the facts of that day. Written in precise, but clipped prose, wonderful atmospheric moments, especially invoking the late '60s and the '70s" the songs on the radio, the neighborhoods of Chicago, the politics of the time, the big news stories. It helps that the son followed in his father's footsteps: his dad was one of the copy editors for the Chicago Sun Times, and Michael is a magazine editor. It's important to get the "real" story, and although afraid what he will find, how it will affect others, he is compelled to keep trying. Somehow, in spite of learning (what he'd always suspected) his father was not "with friends" and then died on the street(i.e. the title) Hainey explores the complexity of his father's life with compassion. Likewise, he conveys his deep love for his mother, his grandmother, his brother, and his cousin - all those close to him in his early years. While wandering in it's plot, moving between Hainey's past and present, and that of his parents' past and present, I was compelled to keep reading, to find out alongside Michael what really happened on the day he learned his dad had died, and who his parents were. A good choice also for those who are experiencing the aging -death of someone they love; the portions of the book focused on his grandmother and Michael are humorous, tender and enlightening. Definitely recommended!
  • (4/5)
    Michael Hainey is an editor with GQ magazine and the son of the copy editor of the Chicago Sun Times. His father died when he was 6 and he always wondered exactly how his father died since no one in his family would ever talk about it. His father's obituaries said that he died "after visiting friends," but who were these friends and why had no one ever seen them? Thus begins his search: interviewing old co-workers of his fathers, digging up old records from the Cook County morgue and reconnecting to long-lost relatives. He curses the secrecy of friends and family, yet, paradoxically, keeps his search secret from his own close relatives. As he starts to reveal the truth, he reveals a flawed, but essentially decent, man who he is proud to call his father.Hainey's book not only reveals the truth about family relationships, but also invokes the lost and freewheeling world of journalism in Chicago. Insightful and moving to the end.
  • (3/5)
    Michael Hainey’s father, a “newspaperman”, died when he was only 35, and Michael only 6. As an adult, Michael took a look at the obituaries, but they didn’t really “line up”. There was something odd, and he wanted to find out how his father died. He and his family (mother and brother) had only been told he’d died on the street, after visiting friends. It was ok. It was a somewhat interesting search for the author to find out what had happened, but I didn’t like the writing style. He wrote in very short choppy non-sentences (well, some were sentences!). It also jumped around in time quite a bit, maybe more in the first half (that, or I got used to it and didn’t notice as much in the second half). The short sentences and short chapters made it quick to read.
  • (4/5)
    this memoir is so beautifully written, rich in detail, but never over-complicated. i'm glad {after years of having it on my TBR list} i finally read it. the story is heart-breaking and sometimes frustrating. it's bittersweet, fascinating and always full of love. the ending made me cry for several different reasons, but overall, i enjoyed following Hainey's journey. highly recommend!