Returning to Atlanta after four years spent living in New York City, Hannah Palmer discovered that her three childhood homes had been eaten up by the sprawl of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The new mom-to-be set out to discover how and when the airport happened to her houses, and what she learned became the basis for her first memoir, Flight Path: A Search for Roots beneath the World’s Busiest Airport.
Palmer’s memoir never feels as if it reaches her desired altitude. Halfway through Flight Path, I realized that I had no motive for Palmer’s seemingly unending quest to document the airport’s growth. Is it because she will soon be a mother, responsible for giving her child a stable home? Because she has returned to find her home city much different than when she left it? Has she, in her newly rooted state, become obsessed with the journeys of others and the supercenter structure that makes their travels possible? Arguments could be made for all of these reasons, to which Palmer throws a few nods, but — like millions of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta’s passengers — the Flight Path author takes off again before she has the chance to dig into the meat of her story.
That’s not to say that Flight Path leaves its author shrouded in mystery. She offers up more than a handful of stories from her childhood and adolescence in Atlanta, but without a central mission to anchor the narrative, these vignettes only add to her memoir’s murk. As soon as you think she has settled in to thoroughly examine one aspect of her tale, Palmer makes a hard turn to something else, abandoning the narrative path she’d only just begun to cut.
Flight Path could have withstood having its page count doubled, if that was what it took for Palmer to get her hooks into Atlanta, the airport, and her own life, and to unite those stories. The intertwining threads Palmer releases feel as if they could have made for a compelling read, had she committed to telling a cohesively woven tale instead of being, well, flighty.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.
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Image credit: josephdepalma