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Book Review

‘After Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story’

5/22/2013

BookCourtesy of Beaverdale Books

Review by Sally Wisdom

Scribner

Feb. 19, 2013

$26

299 pp.

In 1970, 35-year-old Chicago journalist Bob Hainey died suddenly, leaving behind a wife and two sons, ages 8 and 6. The younger son, Michael, grew up with a nagging sense of emptiness and a wistful hope that his father might re-appear at any moment, as well as a premonition that he, too, would die an early death. He also suspected there were secrets he was not being told. The obituaries he tracked down as a teenager were inconsistent about the cause and location of the death, and one made an obscure reference to his father dying “after visiting friends.”

Michael idolized his newspaperman father and followed in his professional footsteps, eventually becoming the deputy editor of GQ. After safely passing his own 35th birthday, he embarked on a decade-long search to examine Bob’s life and death.

He interviews dozens of his father’s friends and colleagues, growing ever more certain of a cover-up as each professes ignorance about the circumstances of Bob’s death. He discovers that many of those who might be able to help have died as well. Persevering in spite of countless dead ends, he delves into files at the hospital and the county morgue only to discover that records have been discarded. In the process of uncovering the truth, he makes unexpected discoveries about his father, his family and himself.

Michael Hainey pursues the story with the tenacity of a seasoned journalist but tells it in a modern, conversational style, entirely in the present tense with sentences that don’t necessarily have both a subject and a verb. The narrative glides back and forth between the young Michael’s observations and his adult self’s dogged quest. Part memoir, part soul-searching personal journey and part page-turning mystery, “After Visiting Friends” is a compelling read. CV

Sally Wisdom spent 32 years as a librarian at the Des Moines Public Library, retiring as deputy director in 2011. She lives in Windsor Heights and was lucky enough to find post-retirement employment at Beaverdale Books.

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