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Visible Empire

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From a writer who “deserves the attention of anyone in search of today's best fiction”* comes an epic novel—based on true events—of wealth, race, grief, and love, charting one sweltering summer in Atlanta that left no one unchanged (*Washington Post)

It’s a humid June day when the phones begin to ring in Atlanta: disaster has struck. Air France Flight 007, which had been chartered to ferry home more than one hundred of Atlanta’s cultural leaders following a luxurious arts-oriented tour of Europe, crashed shortly after takeoff in Paris. In one fell swoop, many of the city’s wealthiest residents perished.

Left behind were children, spouses, lovers, friends, and a city on the cusp of great change: the Civil Rights movement was at its peak, the hedonism of the 60s was at its doorstep. In Hannah Pittard’s dazzling and most ambitious novel yet, she gives us the journeys of those who must now rebuild this place and their lives.

Visible Empire follows the chaos—and hope—that remained in the wake of the crash, and the truths that became evident because of it. This is a story about how we choose to look at the world, and those moments when we finally see it for what it is—whether we’re ready for that clarity or not.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published June 5, 2018

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Hannah Pittard

6 books271 followers

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5 stars
170 (9%)
4 stars
480 (27%)
3 stars
754 (42%)
2 stars
313 (17%)
1 star
48 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 259 reviews
Profile Image for Jill.
1,169 reviews1,645 followers
May 16, 2018
Visible Empire had a lot of initial promise. Based on reality, an Air France charter flight, filled with some of Atlanta’s most prestigious art lovers and patrons, crashed upon take-off in Paris in the early 1960s. Families and friends were devastated and children were left orphans. In the meantime, the city of Atlanta was in the midst of the Camelot era, yet dealing with the inequities of social, economic and racial disparities.

I expected a novel that concentrated on the emotional growth process that touched both the citizens and its city as the horror of the tragedy sunk in. Instead, the novel quickly deteriorated into a sort of made-for-TV soap opera with characters that never really blossomed into life.

Piedmont Dobbs, for example—a young black man on the precipice of a changing racial history—could easily embody just about any black man of that era, and was—in my opinion—shallowly delineated. Robert, who leaves his pregnant wife Lily because of the death of his girlfriend in the crash, and Lily, who suffers the loss of her parents, her inheritance, and her spouse in one fell swoop are characters better suited to TV than novels.

I really liked Hannah Pittard’s Fate Will Find Its Way and hoped for a deeper dive into the subject matter here. Unfortunately, for me, that experience didn’t occur.

Profile Image for Kari Ann Sweeney.
940 reviews280 followers
May 14, 2019
Loved the cover, loved the description, didn't love the book.
While I could totally enjoy this novel as a mini-series, it didn't work for me as a novel. It had a lot of promise- historical fiction based on a plane crash in 1962 and the survivors back home in Atlanta who are left to pick up the pieces of their new reality. After reading it, I wasn't sure it had much to do with the plane crash at all. You know those books that almost get it right? This one almost gets it right- but in the end it wasn't for me.
Profile Image for Sarah at Sarah's Bookshelves.
511 reviews451 followers
June 26, 2018
Thank you to Doubleday and Netgalley for an advanced copy of this book.

I know many people have mixed feelings about fiction based on real life events, but I’m a fan! In Visible Empire, the Orly plane crash is the big event that ties lots of disparate people and perspectives together (and the opening chapters recounting the crash are riveting). The overall book is more a portrait of Atlanta in the 1960’s from all these different perspectives (the Mayor’s wife, family of the crash victims, an African American teenager that has a chance encounter with a member of Atlanta’s elite, and an ambitious young woman) than about the plane crash itself. Pittard gives us a somewhat gossipy take on the crash’s impact on Atlanta’s elite and those who come in contact with them…and her social commentary is excellent. I felt like this would be the book that Dominick Dunne (former Vanity Fair columnist and author of “fictional” novels about real life crimes involving the wealthy) could have written about the crash…and it reminded me of a less epic A Man in Full (by Tom Wolfe). But, I did miss the Afterward that normally accompanies these types of books that lays out where the author stayed true to real life and where she took liberties for the sake of the story.

Visit https://www.sarahsbookshelves.com for more reviews.
Profile Image for Sharon Huether.
1,477 reviews10 followers
April 12, 2018
A story about the 1962 air line crash in Paris. All were lost on the trip back to the U.S. These were the art loving people of Atlanta.
One of the families affected by the loss of family and friends; was Robert and Lily, they saw their future disappear. Lily was at home, expecting a baby soon. The tragedy brought Robert and Lily back together.
There were parts of this book that took off in a totally different.It didn't flow.
I won this book through Goodreads First reads.
Profile Image for Linda Hutchinson.
1,300 reviews38 followers
June 23, 2018
I am a little flummoxed about how to review this book. Was it about race relations in Atlanta, or was it about a plane crash in France where 100 or more of the wealthiest citizens of Atlanta perished, or was it about infidelity, or was it about interracial romance, or was it about suddenly rich survivors? The novel started with an interesting story line but the book disintegrated (along with the plane) into a variety of vignettes that really did not pull the story together. I’ll be interested in your reviews. ⭐️⭐️ #Book #books #paris #atlanta #romance #racewars #interracialcouple #grifters #riots #plane #planecrash #art #wealthy #basedontruestory #verylooselybased #bibliophile #bookstagram #bookgeek #reading #read #meh

IG: @bookbimbo
760 reviews34 followers
December 13, 2017
Pittard has managed to write an exquisite novel about a few weeks in the lives of people living in Atlanta in 1962. The catalyst which propels the story is the crash of a plane carrying the leading and richest citizens of Atlanta.

The book centers around the lives of Robert and Lily, profoundly affected by the crash. Lily has lost both her parents and her wealth while Robert has lost his mistress. .The book takes the reader through the issues of Southern society and attitudes via the character of Piedmont, the young black man who is thrown into their orbit. He is portrayed as a man with great potential, but a product of the dangerous times faced by Negroes in 1962 America.

The carelessness and white privilege in the American South is embodied by the character of P.T. Coleman. The author skillfully brings these characters together during the few weeks between the crash and the birth of Lily and Robert’s child. There is unexpected love, as well as forgiveness.

This is a compact book, that enthralls the reader with each carefully chosen word. As one sinks into the lush narrative it reveals the prejudice which was the miasma that surrounded every piece of life in the “new South”.

There is an inner decency in both Lily and Robert that offers hope for the future. As a reader I marveled at how much Pittard was able to portray in these pages. I was also saddened by the similarities to today’s world that existed in 1962, such as police treatment of minorities.

Without a doubt, this is a special and beautifully written novel that should not be missed by both individuals and book clubs.
Profile Image for Lisa.
923 reviews3 followers
June 16, 2018
I was completely caught up in this novel, but the ending felt rushed. Pittard's writing is lovely, and I will read her other novels.
Profile Image for Russ.
359 reviews35 followers
December 27, 2020
An unpalatable blend of fiction smothered overtop a thin morsel of fact. The plane crash of Atlanta's arts patrons in France really happened, but the way this novel is written it is difficult to discern what was researched from what was invented. Mayor Ivan Allen was a real person and I could not tell whether his conversations with his wife were based on actual historical evidence or if they're just fabrications of the author. This was very confusing especially in the immediate aftermath of the crash. It isn't until the middle that it becomes clearer that everything is made up.

Unfortunately, Visible Empire exhibits the weakest elements of literary fiction: dreamy and despondent characters; faint mysticism, and no plot. And unlike a lot of literary fiction, the language here isn't artful enough to make up for it.

It never becomes clear who the main character is. Remember the old discussion question from English class: whose story is it? With this book, couldn't tell ya.

There's Lily, a pregnant lady who appears more often than most characters. Her husband paid Piedmont, a young African-American male, to drive a car somewhere. Lily develops some kind of attraction to Piedmont. Because of societal confines of race and class, their brief camaraderie doesn't develop into a love affair. I think the intention was to be poignant, but their interactions came across as awkward and boring.

The other "big" thread (yet still not the main thread of the story) is Anastasia, an attractive young woman, scooped up by Genie, an older, lecherous lesbian who insists the younger woman was orphaned by the plan crash. Anastasia goes along with the ruse, apparently because she enjoys being pampered in luxury.

Neither of these storylines leads anywhere. Just a lot of meandering through mild explorations of love or infatuation outside of marriage. If that's sounds compelling to you, you'll like this.

The reason I give it two stars instead of one is that I did learn a little in the beginning and I like books set in Atlanta.
Profile Image for Nia Forrester.
Author 64 books809 followers
August 19, 2018
A beautifully written, hard-to-classify book, about a moment in time in Atlanta when the city suffered an unspeakable loss.

It is 1962, and things are changing socially, culturally, and politically, and then, thousands of miles away in Paris, a plane falls from the sky. The connection between this tragedy and the lives of several disparate but interconnected people, white and Black, wealthy and poor is explored in this slice-of-life story. Hannah Pittard has a unique voice that reminds me of William Makepeace Thackeray, but with a modern flair. It’s a mix of satire and dead-serious that’s hard to define or pigeonhole. But I liked it; I liked it a lot.

There were also some stunningly insightful moments, like when the author got into the head of Peidmont, a young Black man who has his hope that he is destined for great things dampened. Pittard’s descriptions of how he views race and race relations were astute for someone who (forgive me for saying this) is about as far removed from a young Black man in a segregated world as a hippo is from a gazelle. I respect this author’s skill, but also her empathy in her portrayal of this character.

Similarly, she portrayed an aging lesbian suddenly in fear of being deprived of her financial security, a n’er do well playboy, an errant husband and a beautiful young wannabe actress with just as much care. Hannah Pittard is not a writer who was on my radar but she is now. Highly recommended for lovers of literary fiction.
Profile Image for Charlsa.
534 reviews21 followers
August 5, 2018
The title was clever. Unfortunately, it’s the only thing in this book was clever. It covered no knew ground nor did it put forth any fresh thoughts. The plane crash was simply a jumping off point for a different topic. The stories were disjointed and lacking in development, much less conclusion. Piedmont was the only likeable character. Lulu drove me nuts. I wanted to skip over all the dialogues between her and the Mayor. I felt duped. I almost skipped this one…wish I had trusted my instincts on this one.
Profile Image for Chris Dietzel.
Author 27 books401 followers
October 18, 2020
This was the first of Pittard's books that didn't keep me completely engaged. I feel like she is at her best when she focuses on 2-3 main characters and gives the reader a character study of each. In this, the large cast of characters and the jumping narratives worked against her. Still a good book but just not as good as her others.
Profile Image for Bonnie Brody.
1,193 reviews187 followers
May 17, 2018
This novel is based on a real plane crash that occurred in 1962 as a French plane was taking off for Atlanta. Virtually all the passengers died in the crash and their remains were burnt beyond recognition. Almost all of the passengers were from Atlanta, having completed a European tour and now heading home. The novel is told from the points of view of those who lost loved ones in the crash or were connected to the deceased in some way.

Robert is married to Lily who is due to give birth in about one month. He was having an affair with Rita who died in the crash. Robert is now a lost soul who has turned to drink in order to assuage his pain. He's left Lily and is hanging out with Raif, a despicable character whose parents died in the crash. Raif has inherited a fortune but is aimless and without an ethical center. Raif spends his days drinking and drugging and Robert is along for the ride.

Piedmont is a young black man who Raif hires to drive him home in his Thunderbird. Raif then asks Piedmont to return his car. A black man driving a Thunderbird is a total anomaly in Atlanta at this time and so Piedmont is stopped and beat up by the police. He manages to call Robert's phone number, which Robert had provided in case of an emergency, and Lily gets him out of jail. Piedmont and Lily form a friendship that is close and tender but considered inappropriate in the south.

Anastasia is a young woman who doesn't have much going for her other than her looks and diving ability. Raif's sister, who also lost her parents, takes Anastasia home with her. Anastasia has no idea what she's getting in to.

We're also privy to the mayor of Atlanta who is trying to do right by his grieving city while also taking care of his mentally ill wife who is staying in bed all day, most likely due to depression.

I can't say I liked any of the characters except Piedmont and Lily. The others tended to be without scruples and thinking about how the deaths of others could benefit their own lives. The writing was good and I found the book to be a page turner. It would be a great beach or airplane read for those who like literary fiction.
113 reviews
May 10, 2018
As a native Atlantan transplanted to Northern California as an adult, I was eager to read "Visible Empire" set in Atlanta, GA in the immediate aftermath of the Orly airplane crash which tragically killed many local arts patrons in 1962. I was twelve years old when this event occurred and vividly recall my horror at the many children orphaned by this event as well as the beautiful Rodin sculpture gifted by the city of Paris to the city of Atlanta for its High Museum of Art.

Hannah Pittard did a good job setting the scene for her novel with accurate portrayals of the large southern homes of her characters and a realistic picture of the emotions felt by survivors. However, the characters and plot of this novel were more like a soap opera than the historical fiction narrative I expected. Important issues of segregation, Civil Rights, economic and social class, and family are touched upon, but none are examined with any depth, and most of the characters seemed self-centered and superficial. I'm grateful to Net Galley for the opportunity to read an ARC of this book, but disappointed that it did not live up to my expectations.
Profile Image for Jennifer Kepesh.
786 reviews11 followers
August 4, 2018
I didn't know anything about this book except the blurb--it was a sale book on Kindle. I wasn't expecting to be as deeply invested in it as I became. I think that the reason is that it is a book that starts with a story of Atlanta I had never heard--the story of a plane crash in Paris, France, that killed more than 100 of Atlanta's most prominent white citizens, who had spent a month in Europe on an art tour. This really happened in 1962. The Woodruff Arts Center, where I have gone to so many concerts, was the memorial created for them. This is the story of some of the people left behind--a few who were orphaned when their parents died, the mayor of the time who knew almost all of the people who died, his wife, and various others in that community. At the same time, it also involves the black community, just being roused by MLK and Malcom X, aware of lynchings within the city limits and all around, still subject to brutal behaviors (Driving While Black goes as far back as cars go). With so many characters, it is not a book that deep-dives into anything; it is a mural, a milieu. But it gives me a greater understanding of the place I lived for 13 years, fuzzily aware of the history.
Profile Image for Melissa.
494 reviews1 follower
September 21, 2018
3ish that I'm rounding up. I liked it well enough, but didn't quite connect with it enough to make it a real standout.
Profile Image for bethany m. planton.
422 reviews30 followers
November 6, 2018
I knew nothing about the events of June 3,1962 or their affect on Atlanta. Visible Empire follows multiple storylines in Atlanta in the aftermath of Chateau de Sully crash. I enjoyed how Pittard wove the stories together to give a more complete look at the aftermath. Very enjoyable read.
Profile Image for DeAnn.
1,317 reviews
September 1, 2019
3 Peachtree stars

This is a book that was uncomfortable to read, but one I’m glad to have read. Set in Atlanta just after a plane crash in Paris has killed about one hundred prominent Atlantans. Based on a true story, the historical aspect was quite interesting. There are Civil Rights themes and the book is told from multiple narrators.

I thought it was well written, but it missed the mark in a few ways for me as a reader. I didn’t really root for any of the characters and I wasn’t drawn into the storyline. It took me some time to finish this one.
Profile Image for KrisTina.
799 reviews8 followers
July 20, 2018
Stupid. Seriously - I follow Modern Mrs. Darcy and this was on her summer recommendation list - but did she really read this book? I can't imagine why it would have been recommended. It pretended to touch on issues of class and race but instead it just was a flat not-interesting story full of characters that were not sympathetic but instead were just weird. Don't read it.
Profile Image for Jill Meyer.
1,170 reviews106 followers
April 8, 2018
On June 3, 1962, an Air France charter flight bound for New York City and then Atlanta, crashed upon takeoff from Paris's Orly Airport. Only two people on the 707 survived the crash; the other 130 people were killed. All the 120 passengers were from Atlanta and were returning from a three week tour of Europe. All were from Atlanta's wealthiest and most prestigious families and their deaths echoed for years in the arts and social communities of the city.

Hannah Pittard has written a novel, "Visible Empire", set in Atlanta the summer of 1962 as the families and friends begin to come to terms with the deaths of their loved ones. (A work of non-fiction, "Explosion at Orly: The Disaster that Transformed Atlanta", by Ann Abrams, was published in 2002). I enjoyed Pittard's novel, though I wasn't sure how much it had to do with the plane crash. The fictional characters - with the exception of one - were none very likeable, though that has never bothered me, as long as they are interesting. And for the most part, Pittard's characters were interesting. The only "real" characters were Atlanta's progressive mayor Ivan Allen, Jr and his wife, Louise. For some reason, they were included in the text, which was written in character-chapters . Pittard follows her characters as they meet and mix, much like the designs in a kaleidoscope when the outside is turned.

I think I was vaguely disappointed that the story could have been set anywhere in the summer of 1962. There was a strong component of the civil rights issues being fought at the time and the story of Piedmont Dobbs, the almost saintly young African-American, was an interesting part of the plot. As I write this review, I'm trying to figure out how "I" would have written a novel on this subject and can't really come up with much. I assume Hannah Pittard did the best she could with her novel. I did enjoy reading it and can recommend it to others, though.
Profile Image for Jessica.
2,274 reviews3 followers
June 23, 2018
"It was four trustees of the Art Association and a former president of Oglethorpe University and half the members of the Junior League and both cofounders of the Atlanta English-Speaking Union and seven volunteers of the Humane Society and twenty members of the Druid Hills High School PTA and another twelve of Westminster's PTA and three faculty members of Emory University, not to mention the first female clerk of the Georgia Supreme Court. It was every member of the ad hoc all-female croquet team that had been founded on a whim by Sheila Stowe, and it was sixty members of Piedmont Country Club and another forty-five of the Cherokee Driving Club. It was twenty doctors, nine architects, thirteen lawyers, and too many mothers and fathers to count."

Visible Empire starts in 1962 when a chartered plane carrying 121 Atlanta residents crashes, with no survivors. (A true story.) I wanted to read a book about what happens to the people left in the Art Association and the Humane Society and the PTA. What is it like in the high school when so many parents have died at the same time? If the Country Club loses sixty members at once, do the remaining members even want to go any more or is it too sad?

This book is not where you find out. Pittard focuses on a handful of characters, some of whom lost people in the crash and some of whom didn't. It affects everyone's life in some way, but all the crash does is set the story into motion. After that it takes off on it's own.

In general I agree with the rule that you're supposed to review the book you DID read instead of the one you wished you could have read. Well: even aside from it being disappointing, I didn't like it all that much. There were several unlikable characters and several meh ones. Everyone is drifting aimlessly and making spectacularly bad choices. I'm the kind person who gets itchy even reading about people making the non-responsible choice. (I'm fun at parties! Invite me!)
Profile Image for Mary Lins.
847 reviews116 followers
April 19, 2018
I'll bet dollars-to-donuts that Hanna Pittard's new historical fiction, "Visible Empire", will be made into a film or TV show/series. It's got tons of cinema-graphic elements (an actual PLANE CRASH fer crying out loud!) plus stir in the current nostalgia for the 1960s and plenty of "rich and beautiful" characters, race-relations and Civil Rights history; well, that's a recipe Hollywood won't pass up.

Based on a true event: a 1962 plane crash in Paris that killed 121 of Atlanta's upper class who were on an art tour of Europe, the aftermath is examined through the points of view of quite a few characters who were affected either directly or tangentially. Remember, the environment in Atlanta in 1962 vis-a-vis the Civil Rights movement was fraught, and Pittard weaves that thread through her story of the rich and famous white folk.

I was immediately captivated by Pittard's writing and pacing. I've read two of her previous novels and thoroughly enjoyed them...she has a way of sweeping the reader into her story. While the combination of a fast-pace plus multiple characters, doesn’t allow for the reader to get particularly “attached” (or “put off” by), to anyone in the story, it’s still an entertaining, interesting. I closed the book with a satisfied smile.
Profile Image for Cathi.
225 reviews7 followers
August 22, 2018
Rounded up on this one, but I am really riding the waves of thought after finishing this book. There was a point, mid-way through, when I wondered if I would have enjoyed a non-fiction book about this same event (1962 plane crash at Orly, killing almost all on board- who were mostly wealthy Atlanta residents)- but some of the chapters at the end were really quite perfect.

I struggle a little with the genre of Rich People Problems- this is more nuanced than that (and grief is universal). I liked reading about the characters, and although I don't have a network like this, it was interesting to visit this world.

Glad I picked this up at the library.
Profile Image for Drew.
1,569 reviews506 followers
May 27, 2018
Rounding up from 3.5 - I really enjoyed the first 3/4s of the novel and the panoply of characters Pittard introduces, giving us a swirling view of Atlanta in 1962. But everything starts to feel a bit glancing, especially the politics, and the novel ultimately concludes with a scene of off-screen horror and then a limp wrap-up.

Still, I adore Pittard’s writing and I’m aware that this was a deeply personal novel for her - so, okay, I’m glad I read it.
Profile Image for Amy lifewiththe_williams.
300 reviews8 followers
June 18, 2018
Wow. This book was so moving and so thought provoking and so relevant to our time even tho it is set in the 1960’s. It’s sad to realize that we haven’t progressed as much as we think. I loved the character driven story tho, each and every character and their development in the wake of this tragedy
Profile Image for ImLisaAnn.
99 reviews5 followers
July 28, 2018
I received a digital ARC of this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on NetGalley. I’m grateful to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for their generosity and am happy to post this honest review. All opinions are my own.

The foundation of Visible Empire is the 1962 fatal crash of an Air France jet transporting 121 of Atlanta’s art patrons—the wealthy, white, upper-crust of the city. From there, Pittard builds her tale of those left behind—the grieving remainder of the muckety-mucks, the white serving class, and the subjugated black population of the city. From here we meet Roger, grieving the loss of his mistress and parents-in-law; Lily, reeling from the double-yet-different-losses of her parents and Robert; Piedmont, an African-American youth pulled into Robert and Lily’s orbits at a time of upheaval in his own life; and Stacy, a white serving class woman who sees an opportunity and takes it.

Invisible and Visible Empires
The title Visible Empire is actually a nod to the full name of the Ku Klux Klan—the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. If the Invisible Empire of the KKK is the shadowy, hooded phantoms that move at night, the overt racism of 1962 Atlanta is the Visible Empire. It is the status quo of wealth and privilege that is ignored until tragedy literally falls from the sky. Black men and women were beaten and died every day in the South in the 1960s and no one batted an eye. Over one hundred white people from Atlanta die, and suddenly the world is watching.

Pittard makes her intentions clear in the quotes she chooses for her Epigraph, including the two quotes I started this review with. The loss is seen as monumental to the city—The New York Times runs articles on this great loss and its impact to the city. In contrast at the time, The New York Times hadn’t once run an article on the massive loss of black life in the city in the preceding years. While most of us see the KKK as extremist and wrong, far fewer examine the status quo of white privilege that sees the loss of one hundred white lives as catastrophic and the poisoning of hundreds of black lives in Flint, Michigan as old news. Visible Empire was set in 1962 but in many regards could be set today.

The story is presented through a series of alternating character vignettes. Robert is a journalist, embroiled in an affair with a younger colleague who was on the doomed flight. Lily is Robert’s wife, pregnant with her and Robert’s first child, sent reeling at the loss of her parents and her abandonment by Robert. Intersecting with their story is that of Piedmont, an eighteen year-old black youth on the precipice of identity—faced with the choice of whether he will accept the status quo, keep his head down, and stay safe or whether he will stand and fight, link arms with other black men and women in the south saying that they have had enough. Finally there is Stacy, a character whose story is only tangentially connected to the Roger-Lily-Piedmont narrative. Stacy has grown tired of her hardscrabble life, believes she deserves more, and takes an opportunity to impersonate one of the left-behind upper class Atlantians.

Robert’s character is interesting—when I sat down to describe him, I can only come up with negative descriptors—he’s the epitome of white privilege, married into money, selfish, and willing to throw away everything—and yet—of course!—because he’s white, his bad choice roosters don’t really come home to roost. I should hate him. At times I did. But damn it, Pittard make me want the best for him. There’s something about him that made me want him to stop throwing everything he had away, to stop making bad choices, and to set things right.

Much like her name, Lily is the pure white character in the book. She’s the virtuous, wronged woman, the woman in need of rescue. While she’s one of the muckety-muck class, her tragedy makes her sympathetic and her treatment of Piedmont shows the reader that she’s not really like one of them. Lily is perhaps the most trope-y of the characters, acting her part as the damsel in distress. When Robert leaves, Lily starts to learn to stand on her own. Though Piedmont quickly enters her life and she gets another man she can lean on. I’m torn on whether I think she ultimately learned to stand on her own or just switched out her men. She’s likeable and it’s clear Pittard made an effort to make her seem independent. I’m just not entirely sure it worked. Where Piedmont became a vehicle to present Lily to the reader, in many ways Lily served that role for Robert. I had no problems with Lily as I was reading and was sympathetic to her and what she was going through; yet the longer I sit with the book, I’m not sure I really got to know her.

Pittard is a white author and I’m a white reader so my ability to analyze the characterization of Piedmont, the only black main character, is limited. With that said, of all the characters, Piedmont seemed the most well-rounded to me and was my favorite character. Where Robert’s wrestling with who he is as a man reeks of privilege and self-pity, Piedmont’s exploration of what it means to be a black man coming of age in 1962 Atlanta seemed real and drew me in. The choices he makes are understandable, though often unwise (so, fairly typical of an eighteen year-old). And yet, as a reader you still root for him. When he stands on his own or interacts with Robert, he is at his strongest. When he interacts with Lily, he faded a bit for me—partially as a consequence of Pittard using his interactions with Lily to provide opportunities for growth for her. I want the best for him and though I recognize he is simply a fictional character, there’s a part of me that hopes wherever he is, he turned out ok.

Distinct from the Lily-Robert-Piedmont story line is that of Stacy/Anastasia. I have to admit that I hated her character, though this seems intentional on the part of Pittard. Stacy has a sympathetic enough backstory to give her a likeable dimension, though the choices she makes reveal fairly quickly that her brother’s accusation of her narcissism is accurate. Just when I was at the point of thoroughly hating her, there’s an unexpected twist in her story. She goes from being the con artist to the mark. This created a conundrum for me—I didn’t like her as a character, I felt sorry for her victim; but then these roles shifted. Stacy’s entire storyline, while intersecting with Lily-Robert-Piedmont enough that it didn’t feel entirely disparate, stood alone. It raised questions of who we consider victims and who we consider perpetrators. It introduced a “poor white” element to the story that was otherwise missing within the exploration of rich Atlanta’s relationship with its black population.

My major issue with Stacy’s storyline is the treatment of the two LGBTQ characters who appear in Stacy’s chapters. We are given enough background to see how they came to be the way they are (which isn’t to say how they came to be gay, but how they came to be the kind of people who make the kind of choices they make). Neither is portrayed particularly kindly and both are villains in their own rights—this negative portrayal felt stereotypical to me. An LGBTQ character can absolutely be a villain in your book; however, if you’re going to have negative gay characters, it feels like you should damn well include at least one virtuous one. To Pittard’s credit, everyone in this book is behaving badly except Piedmont and arguably Lily so it’s not like the only evil characters are gay; yet this treatment still felt unbalanced.

Ultimately, I do think the point Visible Empire attempts to make is an important one. The book is well-written and it moves at a good pace—my dislike of Stacy made her chapters feel long at times, though this had more to do with my feelings for the character than it did with missteps in Pittard’s writing. Pittard is obviously skilled at making you feel strongly about her characters—I rooted for Robert while being exasperated with him and thinking he did not deserve my affection. I felt sorry for Stacy at the same time I would never want to actually meet her in real life. Visible Empire isn’t going to make my top ten list for the year but if you are interested in historical fiction and/or books that explore racial themes that still apply, I do think it is worth your time. It is one I would recommend for someone looking for a book that reads a bit lighter in writing style but packs a message and for book clubs, since I think this book will draw a diversity of opinions.

Published: June 5, 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (@hmhbooks)
Author: Hannah Pittard (@hannahpittard)
Date read: May 22, 2018
Rating: 4 stars
Profile Image for Rachael Rennard.
32 reviews53 followers
August 27, 2018
The book is based on an actual plane crash in 1962 that killed over 100 of Atlanta’s most prominent citizens. I expected the novel to be about the crash, but there’s very little about the actual event. The novel is Pittard’s invention of what the aftermath of that crash may have looked like for some of Atlanta’s elite.

This is one instance where I don’t get the mixed reviews. I loved the varying storylines that intersect. I thought it was a beautifully crafted and well-written novel. It kept my attention and was a real page-turner for me. It covered important themes of wealth, class, racial tension in the 60’s, grief and love. I will definitely be reading more of Hannah Pittard.

Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard, 271 pages, 4/5 stars

Profile Image for Therese.
20 reviews
June 16, 2022
Not what I was expecting. I usually love books that switch perspectives every chapter, but this one was really disappointing. None of the characters were very likeable and the author didn't do a great job of tying everything together. I expected the book to be about the tragedy's aftermath and those directly impacted by the event, instead the plot focused on characters that were only very loosely tied to the tragedy. The book ended on a very poor note with no real resolution.
would not recommend but you do u 💥
314 reviews
July 21, 2019
Pittard's novel, set in 1962 after a plane crash that wiped out many of the elite members of society, offers a short capsule view of privilege and race from that time. I found most of the flawed characters distasteful and was searching for someone to pull for. In the end the book offered that and I was touched by the conclusion.
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