GQ Editor Michael Hainey’s Memoir “After Visiting Friends”

Originally published January 2013

“We all have a family inside secrets and loss. There is a truth that can help heal us and help us move forward.”

Anyone who knows me would tell you that I am not on the cutting edge of style. I think a clean sweatshirt is “edgy.” But even I know GQ, so when a friend approached me with the opportunity to interview editor Michael Hainey, I jumped at the chance.

Then it got personal.

See, Hainey’s book is about the death of his father and the search for truth. And like him, I lost my dad at a young age, suddenly. So to me, the material became exquisitely intimate. The magical thinking that’s involved when a parent dies, expecting them to walk around the corner, be in the kitchen when you come home from school … all explained away with a secret federal government mission, a reporting assignment. The wonderment about whether you’ll make it past the age that they passed, as if your expiration date is indelibly tied to theirs. And then there’s just the plain not.knowing. Not even what could have been, but what actually happened.

And in Hainey’s case, the not knowing was starting to make him a little crazy. So he began a years-long journey to discover the truth. Back and forth to Chicago, to Nebraska, Ohio … records departments, hospitals, old neighborhood haunts. Friends. Family. People still unwilling to give it up, and others that knew the day would come when questions would be asked. And it’s a journey well worth your attention.

When I interviewed Hainey, I told him how much I liked it, and that I was impressed with his relationship with his grandmother—you don’t hear about many guys holding their grandmothers hands, let alone taking the time to visit. It was those moments that made the book so much more accessible than your typical “truth at all costs” tomes. Usually, a story about a person seeking truth has a hard edge to it, but not with this book—at its core, it’s a tender account of a man prepared to find out what really happened the night his father died, knowing it could hurt those still living, and being genuinely frightened at the possibility of losing the love and respect of his mother and brother. But, as he quoted to me above, it’s really about healing and moving forward—and that’s what the truth helps you do.

If you’re looking for a foray into memoir and nonfiction that doesn’t read dry, engages and is swathed in real emotion, here’s the book for you. From a storytelling perspective, it draws you in immediately and you won’t want to put it down until you learn the truth, too.

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