Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane

A diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble.  David Whyte 

May Attaway, the main character and narrator of the story in Rules for Visiting might have taken Whyte’s wisdom a step further. Upon realizing that at forty she had no friends, and given a month off from work, May sets out on a journey to visit four old friends from her childhood and college days.  She goes to Wal-Mart, buys a roller-bag suitcase which she names Grendel, and sets off on her journey. As a silent companion with May on her travels, I became so engaged with this disarming character that no more than halfway through the book, I would have befriended her in a New-York-minute.

May studied botany in college, and works, contently, as a university gardener. She lives in the house in which she grew up, with her father, a widower, who lives in the basement apartment. For reasons the reader gathers here and there throughout the story, May keeps people at arm’s length, with the result of no one around whom she feels she can a friend – the source of her dilemma.  However,  her sharp observations of the people around her on her travels had me laughing out loud.  However,  one of May’s biggest draws for me was her insistence on face-to-face visits in this digital age. Facebook feeds were too tidy; May opted for our untidy analog lives. 

May visits Lindy, a neighborhood childhood friend, and Vanessa who made the twosome a trio in eighth grade. Lindy married, living in Connecticut. Vanessa travelled the world for a while before marrying a divorced man, with twin boys. Neera was her best friend through college; in fact, May introduced Neera to Adam, whom she eventually married. Rose Gregory, an English graduate student, was her mate through the Landscape Architectural program where they completed their graduate work. May acknowledges that she had other friends along the way, but these are the four she stayed in (digital) contact with, but had never visited once their lives parted  their ways.

Following May on her journey, which she considers a female Odyssey, is more than engaging, which is the adjective used most often when I am recommending a book.  Kane never allows her character to tell us what May is deducing, but only what May is witness to in her travels. This engrosses the reader in an absorbing story, applauding for the main character for her resolve, her compassion, and her honesty.

David Whyte ends his essay on friendship by telling the reader that friendship is “sometimes just to have accompanied our friends, for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.’ None of us wants to be alone.  We need each other.  We need friends. This innate yearning for companionship sets May on her journey, but eventually brings her right back home again. 

Reading Rules for Visiting,  which explores friendship in all its messiness and all its gifts,  would be especially enjoyed by someone who has grown tired of scrolling through Facebook feeds and is looking for something else. Something real.

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