VISIBLE EMPIRE by Hannah Pittard


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The real-life crash of a charter plane full of Atlanta's white elite is the inspiration for a fictional examination of race, class, love, and betrayal.

In the summer of 1962, more than 100 Atlanta art lovers were about to return from their junket to the great museums of Italy and France when their jet crashed during takeoff at Orly. The only member of the tour group who didn't perish was Raif Bentley, who took a slightly later plane because he and his wife, parents of three, had a policy of never flying together. In Pittard's (Listen to Me, 2016, etc.) re-imagination of the aftermath of this disaster, Raif returns home to an emotionally ravaged world. His good friends Robert and Lily Tucker, a couple expecting their first child, have lost both of Lily's parents, and Robert, an editor at the Atlanta Journal, has lost his young mistress, a writer from the paper whom he sent to cover the trip. So devastated is he that he walks out on pregnant Lucy that very day and goes into a messy, booze-soaked free fall. The Tuckers' separate perspectives on what happens after that are two of several angles among which the narration rotates. People who have no connection to the crash—Piedmont Dobbs, a 19-year-old African-American who's just left home, and Anastasia Rivers, an opportunistic white beauty who does exhibition diving at a hotel—enter the story as it becomes a study of the effect of privilege on relationships in Atlanta, circa 1962. Some of the angles are more gripping and believable than others; in particular, the engrossing and moving plotline involving Piedmont carries the book and makes some of the rest of it seem rather thin. By the time the novel climaxes at a Fourth of July party held in an over-the-top mansion built on the site of a lynching, one can't help but notice that the plane crash is actually pretty tangential to its main concerns.

Within this book is an excellent novel that would have been stronger with a less complicated treatment.

Pub Date: June 5th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-544-74806-4
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2018


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