Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Visible Empire

Title:  Visible Empire
Author:  Hannah Pittard
Publication Information:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2018. 288 pages.
ISBN:  0544748069 / 978-0544748064

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "In the first few hours, confusion."

Favorite Quote:  "I want to tell you that I understand how big the heart is, how capacious an organ. There's so much room inside. I see that now."

What began as a delightful month-long tour of European art for 106 individuals associated with the Atlanta Art Association ended in disaster. In June 1962, their Air France flight home to Atlanta crashed on take-off from Paris. Two flight attendants survived. The remaining crew and 122 passengers, including the 106 from Atlanta, perished.

Visible Empire picks up on this historical event and creates a fictionalized story of the impact of the crash on the city of Atlanta and its residents. This is not a history I knew. So, I did some research on the plane crash and surrounding events. This, in fact, is one of my favorite things about historical fiction; it often sends me reading the actual history. The fiction and stories are interesting, but I never make the mistake of taking it for the actual history.

In this book, however, the history - of the crash, of the Civil Rights Movement, of life in the South, and of the 1960s is not the center of this story but rather just a backdrop. The book narrates its story - or really what seems a collection of stories - through a varied set of characters. The chapters move back and forth through the different perspectives and essentially different narratives. The issue for me becomes that there are simply too many characters and, hence, too many different threads of this story. It becomes challenging not only to remember the characters and relationship but all the narrative related to each. The characters seem at times tangentially connected. All of this seems to lead to the fact that the characters seem to not develop through the story. Because of the breadth of the narrative, I seem to miss the depth.

Also, I seem to miss the story of the crash. That is the back drop, but then the story veers off into the individual narratives. A couple whose marriages may or may not survive infidelity. An expectant mother dealing with the realization that her parents may not have been who they seemed. A young woman who tells one lie which pulls her into thing she could not have imagined. A black sheep who inherits a fortune. A young man representing the issues of race and segregation. A mayor trying to deal with personal and professional ramifications of the crash. And more. Yes, the crash impacts all of them in different ways, but for most of them, it is not central to their stories.

I guess, at the heart of it, this book was not what I expected and not about what I expected. I might have enjoyed it more had the historical connection not been drawn. I expected more about the actual crash and those who perished. It wasn't there. I expected more incorporation of actual historical figures, but did not find that either. I expected more about the historical outcome, but that too is not really part of this story. This is a case of the history being much more interesting than the story that is built on it.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment