Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2013: In 1970, when Hainey was six, his uncle showed up to say that his father had collapsed and died alone in the street on Chicago's North Side. Being out at dawn wasn't unusual for the elder Hainey, the Night Slot Man at the Chicago Sun Times who vetted every stitch of copy before it went to press. But as Hainey grew up and became a journalist himself, he checked his dad's obits and realized they didn't align. This is the story of his obsession with uncovering the real story of his father's death, how he broke through a wall of secrecy, and made startling revelations about the kind of man his dad had been--as a reporter, husband, and father. It's about how the truth transformed Hainey's relationships with his living family, especially his mother. Unfolding like a good novel with the gathering momentum of a mystery, Hainey's memoir explores the transgressions we'll willingly forgive to finally know someone, even after they're long gone. --Mari Malcolm
Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed.
I began reading Michael Hainey's beautiful book when I was about two days away from finishing my novel—maybe three—and I had been writing nonstop for five months. I would not normally have interrupted my work at such an important (for me) moment, but I simply couldn’t help myself. I read the first few pages of his memoir, and was immediately captured by it—taken hostage completely. There is no way to begin this book without desperately wanting to finish it as fast as possible. There is no way to sleep in peace until you know how this memoir ends. There is no way not to care.
Is there any more powerful story in the world than a boy looking for his father? Hainey's book begins with a mysterious death, proceeds through years of unanswered questions, builds into a relentless investigation, and ends with the stubborn alchemy of a heart transformed. This is a beautiful work of reporting and redemption. He's done extraordinary work with this book—it's so elegant, so careful, and so devastating. It is also written in the tight, immaculate prose of a world-class journalist and editor—somebody who has spent years learning his way around the ins and outs of a good sentence. This is the story of his life, clearly, and it reads that way—as though he has been honing and shaping this story forever. It is not carelessly told. There is not a bit of fat in this writing, which (writer-to-writer) I admire with all my heart.
It also has the lean and tough styling of a different time. Maybe it’s because Hainey was channeling (and challenging) his own hard-boiled reporter of a father, but there is something classical and gritty about this prose, something very masculine and mid-century. You can smell the cigarettes and whiskey, and the perfumes of the alluring women in shadows, the aftershave and the sweat of an older generation. There are hints of Dashiell Hammett in certain of these paragraphs. And yet Michael Hainey himself is not of that generation, and so he allows himself to feel things more honestly than those guys ever did. Even as we watch him struggle to become a man (despite the lurching absence of a father) he not afraid to uncover his deepest sorrows. He is not afraid of his own heart, his own losses, his own desperate weakness. That combination of old-school tough and new-age open is what makes this story so beautifully wrought, and so unusual. On that same note, I also appreciated that extraordinary care Hainey took in describing his mother, who was also a victim in Hainey’s father’s death. In the search for the missing man in his life, Hainey has not neglected to also search for the missing woman—the woman who was standing in the kitchen the whole time, frustrated and somewhat invisible.
I can't say I’ve ever read anything quite like this. I can’t think of a thing I would want him to change, and there are parts of this story that will stay with me forever. I plan to buy it for all my male friends. I think it’s an incredibly important book about coming into one’s own. I finished it in tears.