Whenever possible, I want a book to take me into a world I can’t visit on my own, and to help me get inside the minds of people I might not be familiar with. I want to learn, I want to laugh, and if possible, I want to feel sad when the last page is done.
Happily, this is exactly what I got from Visiting Hours, the third book by Jennifer Anne Moses.
Visiting Hours takes place inside of a Baton Rouge hospice for AIDS patients. This won’t be a comparison everyone will agree with (and I hope it doesn’t annoy the author), but the hospice frequently reminded me of both the rehab center and the Enfield Tennis Academy from Infinite Jest. Both in the detail, the dialogue, the humor, and the pervasive air of a book that manages to be deeply sad while constantly funny. Maybe that won’t make sense to anyone but me.
What I enjoyed the most about the book was the dialogue. Jennifer Moses has an amazing ear and it’s obvious that she’s spent a lot of time in Louisiana listening to the way people talk. If you read A Confederacy of Dunces and noticed just how specific Toole was when writing dialect, you’ll recognize another gifted mimic here.
It makes the characters real. They are alive while you’re reading the book. I’ve said before that by the end of Don Quixote, Lonesome Dove, and Gone Girl, just to pick three, you know the pairs of characters as well as it is possible to know anyone fictional. I’m adding Visiting Hours to that list.
Visiting Hours is unflinching where it needs to be unflinching, compassionate on every page, and really, really funny, which is never a bad thing. It is a book about people with hard jobs caring for people who have hard lives. But it’s a read that I couldn’t put down. I read it in one sitting, which I don’t have the time to do very often. I didn’t have much of a choice because it was that good.
I really like it when I can tell the author had fun writing the book. More than once during Visiting Hours I thought, “I bet she’s really cool.”