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Rules for Visiting: A Novel

Rules for Visiting: A Novel

by Jessica Francis Kane

Narrated by Emily Rankin

Unabridged — 6 hours, 34 minutes

Jessica Francis Kane

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A beautifully observed and deeply funny novel of May Attaway, a university gardener who sets out on an odyssey to reconnect with four old friends over the course of a year.

At 40, May Attaway is more at home with plants than people. Over the years, she's turned inward, finding pleasure in language, her work as a gardener, and keeping her neighbors at arm's length while keenly observing them. But when she is unexpectedly granted some leave from her job, May is inspired to reconnect with four once close friends. She knows they will never have a proper reunion, so she goes, one by one, to each of them. A student of the classics, May considers her journey a female Odyssey. What might the world have had if, instead of waiting, Penelope had set out on an adventure of her own?

Rules for Visiting is a woman's exploration of friendship in the digital age. Deeply alert to the nobility and the ridiculousness of ordinary people, May savors the pleasures along the way — afternoon ice cream with a long-lost friend, surprise postcards from an unexpected crush, and a moving encounter with ancient beauty. Though she gets a taste of viral online fame, May chooses to bypass her friends' perfectly cultivated online lives to instead meet them in their messy analog ones.

Ultimately, May learns that a best friend is someone who knows your story — and she inspires us all to master the art of visiting.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


In Kane’s impeccably written and surprisingly moving second novel (after The Report), May Attaway is an endearingly principled university gardener approaching 40, who lives in her childhood home in Anneville with her father, a retired professor. She moved back to take care of her mother, who has since died, and has neither married nor had children. Though not unhappy, May’s life is at an impasse. When a poem about a yew tree on campus wins a major prize, and a reporter points out May planted the original cutting, she is rewarded with 30 days of paid leave. This coincides with the death of a writer May never knew personally, but whose tribute site May is fond of reading after it went up following her death. So May, seeing how beloved the writer is, decides to use her month off to visit four old friends: Lindy, a happy mom of three and homemaker; Neera, living on the West Coast and navigating a disintegrating marriage; Vanessa, living a cosmopolitan life in New York; and Rose, also a gardener and living in her native England. On May’s visits, she comes to realize the importance of empathy in cultivating relationships, not only with them but with the many people in her life, both past and present. May’s journey is lovely and deeply affecting. (May)

From the Publisher

When 40-year-old gardener May receives a surprise windfall of one month of vacation from the university where she works, she decides to visit four old friends, each one from different periods of her life. Through this initially simple and irresistible starting point, Jessica Francis Kane investigates the most universal mysteries of all.” —Isaac Fitzgerald, Today
“This beautiful novel tackles loneliness in the digital age and the lost art of visiting. Introvert May Attaway is granted some unexpected time off as a university gardener and is inspired to reconnect with four once-close friends. May chooses to bypass her friends' perfectly cultivated online lives to instead meet them IRL. Gives a whole new meaning to Instagram vs. reality.” —Good Morning America

“This spirit-warming saga, an antidote to the uncivil, is a novel to be read again and again, whenever one needs a reminder to seize the day…Treat yourself to Jessica Francis Kane's novel Rules for Visiting, an elixir in book form about a quest for friendship that could have been written by Jane Austen’s great great-great-granddaughter.” —O Magazine

“Crackles with wit.” —The New York Times

“Full of witticisms and broader life lessons, Rules for Visiting will stay with readers.” —Elizabeth Sile, Real Simple

“Kane’s understated meditation on loneliness in the digital age [is] just the right kind of narrative, an antidote for our distracted days.” —Hillary Kelly, Vulture

“A witty, sometimes melancholy and altogether lovely meditation on love, loss, friendship—and botany.” —Wall Street Journal

“Fun, hilarious, and extremely touching . . . its coming out right around Mother's Day is no coincidence . . . I loved May as a character . . . she doesn't need me to like her, though. She has her plants, her father, some new or revitalized friendships, and her own sharp and witty mind to keep her company. She is no Grendel—only a deeply alive human.” —Ilana Masad, NPR

“At 40, May Attaway, the protagonist, finds herself alone and feeling profoundly disconnected from her life and from herself. When she receives an unexpected gift of time off, she seizes the opportunity to visit four old friends. May is smart, funny and more than a little prickly. Readers will love her and find her story both moving and reassuring.” Michael Barnard, San Francisco Chronicle 

“Quietly powerful.” The Chicago Tribune

“Impeccably written and surprisingly moving . . . May’s journey is lovely and deeply affecting.” —Publishers Weekly

“Kane’s delightful tale celebrates friendship, family, love, joy in the ordinary, finding peace, and connecting with those around us. Highly recommended for fans of humorous, touching stories about friendship and self-discovery.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“In the age of Facebook, the true nature of friendship can seem muddled . . . [May] voices the doubts and dreams of any woman who has questioned what it means to be a true friend. Rich in subtexts and lush imagery, Kane’s novel is a sure bet for lively book discussions.” Booklist (starred review)

“Engagingly cleareyed prose about a winningly eccentric heroine in love with trees and literature.” —Kirkus

“Jessica Francis Kane's precise and moving Rules For Visiting is an altogether new sort of friendship novel, one about friendships stretched to their limits over time and space, the sort of friendships so many of us count as our closest. Kane's gift for describing beauty and loneliness, the real stuff of life, is unparalleled.” —Emma Straub, author of All Adults Here

“An engaging and compassionate portrait of how a root-bound, constricted life can begin to bloom. Drawing inspiration from mythic sources, Kane explores the power of friendship and of our connection to the natural world. Her descriptions of plants are transporting.” —Madeline Miller, author of Circe

“There’s a wonderful richness here in every sentence—a lyric and ambling directness that immediately feels like visiting with an old friend, and applied to an ordinariness that soon becomes sublime with topics that go anywhere and then always back to the cure this narrator is in search of: a remedy for her hesitation with life, that feels like a much larger disappointment, almost global. The novel, you soon realize, is perhaps the remedy she searches for, and you almost wish you could give it to her. But take this home with you, as this, this is for us.” —Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
“Jessica Francis Kane’s novel will win your heart: Single, melancholy, resourceful, May Attaway, the 40 year old protagonist of Rules for Visiting, sets out on travels to rekindle her oldest friendships, and thereby to find herself. Wry, witty, ultimately uplifting, this gem of a novel celebrates the gifts in our ordinary lives.” —Claire Messud, author of The Burning Girl
“In one motion Rules for Visiting can break your heart and lift your spirits up to the sky. Funny, warm, thoughtful, there's a little Olive Kitteridge in this gem of a novel. I did not want this book to end. It is the perfect gift for friends or people you just have to visit (everyone I know is getting this!)” —Julie Klam, author of The Stars in Our Eyes: The Famous, the Infamous, and Why We Care Way Too Much About Them
“An elegant and deeply moving meditation on friendship, family, and life on earth. Rules for Visiting is a wonderful novel.” —Emily St. John Mandel, author of Sea of Tranquility, The Glass Hotel, and Station Eleven
“Jessica Francis Kane has written a vivid, elegant and masterfully constructed novel about friendship and neighbors and our own personal odysseys. This is a deeply smart book, one I had difficulty putting down. There is real wisdom in these pages.” —Stuart Nadler, author of The Inseparables

Library Journal

★ 05/01/2019

In Kane's fourth novel (after The Report), 40-year-old university gardener May lives in the town where she grew up. She's more comfortable cultivating plants than relationships. May is a keen observer of people but engages only minimally with them. When she unexpectedly gets awarded extra leave at her job, she decides to travel to visit four friends who have significantly impacted her life at various stages. But her friends have moved away and are busy. May's hope is to reconnect with them and see what their lives are like besides what they present on social media. There, and back again, May might realize that her outward quest has been an inner journey all along. VERDICT Kane's delightful tale celebrates friendship, family, love, joy in the ordinary, finding peace, and connecting with those around us. Highly recommended for fans of humorous, touching stories about friendship and self-discovery. [See Prepub Alert, 11/26/18.]—Susan Moritz, Silver Spring, MD

Kirkus Reviews


In Kane's (This Close, 2013, etc.) contemplative second novel, a woman uses an unexpected gift of time to visit four long-neglected friends.

Despite the wire hanger of a plot surrounding these visits, the novel turns on narrator May's ruminations. Her love of cats and trees (beautiful arboreal drawings by Edward Carey punctuate the text), not to mention her suitcase named Grendel, suggests a delicate, even twee sensibility, but May is capable of expressing curmudgeonly tart opinions about everything from home renovation to the value of neighbors to social media's evils. Approaching 40, she lives quietly with her aged father in her hometown, working as a gardener at the local university and pondering how best to use 30 days of paid leave the school has awarded her. Inspired by readings on friendship, a skill she'd like to improve, and using The Odyssey as a reverse model of epic adventuring—"What if Penelope had left?" she asks herself—May sets off to visit her long-distance friends. All are surprised by May's visits but pleased to see her. In return, May follows Emily Post and Greek travel etiquette to become a perfect guest, although she tends to hover at the brink of actual intimacy. Her cautious affection blends with sly humor in her observations of each hostess: the suburban homemaker cracking under the pressure of creating internet-worthy domestic perfection; the Seattle ultraprogressive in the middle of a divorce; the Manhattan sophisticate stressed by her new roles as second wife and stepmother; and the landscape architect leading an invitingly cozy single life in London. May is generous in sharing her thoughts, but the reader must search between the lines to read her heart as May begins receiving postcards hinting at a desire for more than friendship from a nice man back home. More apparent is May's emotional struggle with unresolved grief over her mother's lingering illness and death years earlier.

Engagingly cleareyed prose about a winningly eccentric heroine in love with trees and literature.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940169269574
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 03/12/2022
Edition description: Unabridged

Customer Reviews