To have a 21-year-old feel a connection with a 40-year-old fictional character says a lot about the quality of an author’s writing and characterization. Jessica Francis Kane can boast this with her 2019 release “Rules for Visiting.” Her main character is one readers can bond, sympathize and want to become friends with.
The book follows May Attaway, a gardener at a university who prefers the company of plants to that of people. She has been living with her father since the death of her mother, who socialized with the neighbors a lot more than she does. She planted a yew tree cutting from a famous 3,000 yew tree in a Scottish churchyard on the campus grounds. When an English student writes a poem about the tree that wins a $50,000 prize, the university recognizes Attaway by giving her paid time off.
Attaway realizes she has not had someone she considers a “close” friend in a long time. She decides to embark on a journey to reconnect with four formerly close friends in a way that submerges her into their lives. They don’t plan grand outings or weekend excursions. She goes to their homes and simply submerges herself in their life for a week or so. Attaway tags along to soccer practices and experiences their day-to-day lives in a simple, honest and organic manner.
It’s strange because in many ways Attaway is a character you do not want to be like. She lives at home, has few friends, no relationship and minimal interactions with her neighbors. She can be a little sad and grumpy at times, but she’s caring, funny and kind. Throughout the book she is willing to try and better herself, which the reader can enjoy through her internal dialogue and sly observations.
There is a hidden grief throughout the book. The reader learns early on that a main reason Attaway lives with her father is because of her mother who passed, but it’s not until later in the book that we learn why and how. There are subtle mentions of a brother who has become estranged. As the book continues, we slowly get to learn about Attaway and watch her rediscover her life after it has been covered in grief for years through reconnecting with friends and rekindling a feeling of community.
This is a fiction that tricks the reader into thinking it is a non-fiction. Kane’s writing style can easily cause the reader to forget they are reading a work of fiction. Her writing is lyrical and simple in a way that may cause readers to want to keep a pencil nearby to underline sentences and passages.
This book is encouraging. It may not sound this way as you read about her lonely life, but this is exactly why it is encouraging. Attaway was lonely, but one day decided to do something about it and reconnect with her old friends. It is touching in the most wholesome way possible and realistic in the most simplistic way possible. This book is a documentation of Attaway growing out of her grief and finding community again.
“Rules for Visiting” is a deep dive into friendship and how key it is in our lives — whether it’s friendship as an adult or friendship in the digital ages — and the importance of having a community. This book causes the reader to cherish the friends they have, want to reconnect with the ones they have lost and make new connections. It is a moving, endearing and introspective read.