Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Expats by Chris Pavone

Memorial Day Weekend and summer marches in. It's fitting that today I took my first genuine woods walk since I broke my tibeal plateau in February. I've been walking on our dirt road and on paved surfaces for the past two weeks (with hiking poles), but nothing beats the atmosphere and excitement of exploring in the deep woods. The physical therapists have discouraged me from going off-road yet, but I found that the soft ground, as uneven as it may be, was much kinder to my knee than hard surfaces.

Maybe because my forest-yearnings have finally been satisfied, I was able to settle down and read today, for over an hour, without feeling that reading is too passive an act for me to tolerate, a deplorable attitude that has plagued me for the past two months.

Yesterday I tossed aside a novel that was taking me nowhere, and I tore into The Expats, a debut novel by Chris Pavone, a New Yorker in his late thirties. I've read over one hundred pages, and for the first time in two months I'm luxuriating in the sensation that I can't wait to get back to my forest green couch to read some more. Hooray!

I suppose some readers might try to pigeonhole The Expats as a spy thriller. I rarely read spy novels and long ago gave up trying to enjoy the genre. I must say that the story is about a woman, a wife, and a mother who jettisons her career in Washington to accompany her husband to his new job in Luxembourg. (Pavone and his wife recently spent more than a year in Luxembourg, and his knowledge of the duchy, and of Paris, and other western European locales adds a great deal to the setting details and action as well as to the sense of isolation, loneliness, and homesickness that confront the characters living abroad for the first time.)

But what I am truly loving about Expats is that Kate and her husband Dexter know very, very little about each other's lives, especially their work lives. They have known each other only as weekend partners, and when that starts to fall away, anything and everything starts to happen. Suspicions, secrets compounded on more secrets, and Kate, a woman with a past, with too much time on her hands, living as a stranger in a foreign land where nothing is as it seems, creates havoc where everything spirals out of control. (Yes, this is a hackneyed description, but I'm out of practice, you know?)

Last but not least: How well does Pavone characterize Kate? Decades of reading has led me to believe that it is incredibly difficult for a male novelist to fully develop a female point-of-view protagonist or leading character so that women readers recognize her as one of them. And I don't know what would prompt a novelist to select a member of the opposite gender for a debut novel. (I'm discussing this only because I dabble at trying to write novels as a hobby, and when writing a novel, there is so much to think about, I cannot imagine adding the stress of trying to make a believable male point-of-view lead character.) And, please note, I'm not saying that men cannot write women, or that women cannot write men. Still, Pavone succeeds well enough that his portrayal of Kate is believable, haunting, and not jarring in any way.  [Please feel free to weigh in with your comments on this topic.]

1 comment:

  1. I want to read 'The Expats' and will be interested to hear what you think when you have finished. I can't comment on his characterisation of Kate but I think Jonathan Franzen does female characters quite well, even if they're not always likeable.