I stumbled across this book after reading Jessica Francis Kane’s article on LitHub about relearning how to connect in light of Covid-19. In truth, what intrigued me most was not her musings on the topic, but more the premise of this novel where a woman decides to visit her friends in lieu of travel upon receiving one month’s worth of paid annual leave. I had been planning on doing that this year before travelling no longer was an option. But I did manage to visit one friend in Malaysia over 4 days. Reading about May Attaway’s odyssey in the name of friendship, I felt like I met a kindred spirit in Kane.
“Conversation is only a part of companionship. It’s hard to just be when you’re on a call, hard to see when you’re constantly looking.”Lauren Collins in the New Yorker
May is described aptly by one of the friends’ she visits as “prickly, but in a soft, long-needled way”. She is not everyone’s cup of tea, and the circumstances of her character, I found difficult to relate to as a fresh university graduate. I nevertheless found myself adoring her.
Rules for Visiting is intimate, quiet, reflective, meditative, and understated. Kane’s prose was so delightful, I felt at times that I was watching a movie play out in slow-motion as opposed to reading a book. Whether it was May staring into the window of the restaurant trying to make out what a group of friends where saying, or watching the old couple that everyone knew walking together with their coffee – I felt like I was in Anneville.
Though I am not a gardener nor enthusiast of classic literature, I found the references to both charming and helped to ground the otherwise pedestrian life of May and Anneville in an element of a mystical or supernatural quality.
I found the commentary of friendship in a digital age affecting. We can show up online, but it is far more impactful to show up in person. Is spending a few days with a friend over the course of a year more impactful than the tiny, but regular, online interactions such as engaging with social media entries and the occasional video call? I am on loose footing when it comes to this debate, I have found myself in both camps, but after finishing this, I am leaning towards showing up in person.
“Perhaps a best friend is someone who … holds the story of your life in mind. Sometimes in music a melodic line is so beautiful the notes feel inevitable; you can anticipate the next note through a long rest. Maybe that is friendship. A best friend holds your story in mind so notes don’t have to be repeated.”Jessica Francis Kane in Rules for Visiting
Recommended. This book is very much Kane’s meditation on friendship. May Attaway explores a lot of the ideas and perspectives I have been having about what modern friendship looks like. It is charming, introspective, and overwhelmingly relatable; I feel like I’ve found a hidden gem.