“To make a lot of money, and travel around Europe all the time.”
That’s not the opening of The Expats, a new thriller by Chris Pavone. But to most of us who are (or have been) expat spouses, it’s a hauntingly familiar. Even though the book is bursting with espionage and secret identities and that cloak-and-dagger stuff, who couldn’t relate to Kate Moore, the American mother of two whose life is turned upside down when her family moves to a charmingly cobblestoned European city?
I confess I bought the book because its title promised a lot of expat-ness, but also because I do love me a good thriller. Mr. Pavone delivers on both fronts. Having lived in Luxembourg for a year and a half, he certainly did his homework, and has perfectly nailed the rhythms and realities of expat life — good and bad. He writes matter-of-factly about the perks of the lifestyle, while also capturing the angst of the accompanying spouse who has left her career behind and doesn’t know who she is anymore. (He obviously spent a lot of time listening to expat women, because the dialogue has the unmistakable ring of authenticity. I can almost see him in the café where he wrote the book, straining to eavesdrop on the coffee-drinking moms at the next table and furiously scribbling notes.)
Here’s a small sampling of the phrases that made me nod in recognition.
“This, she told herself again, is my chance to reinvent myself.”
“Start to finish, it took her two hours to buy a four-euro cleaning product. She couldn’t explain all that; couldn’t complain. She was not in a position to complain about this life, not yet. Probably not ever. She’d wanted this, had expressed to her husband every confidence that she’d enjoy this. She couldn’t whine.”
“Kate shouldn’t resent him for leaving, for leaving her by herself with children in a strange land, alone and lonely. But she did.”
“This is the expat life: you never know when someone you see every day is going to disappear forever, instantly transmogrifying into a phantom….You can’t imagine you yourself being one of those people, someone who one day just vanishes. But you are.”
I don’t want to give you the impression that this is a book about a spoiled expat wife, because it most definitely is not. It’s a fast-paced, thoroughly absorbing story about deeply-buried secrets and their consequences. Pavone is an excellent writer, jerking us back and forth between the past and the present, offering us a tantalizing glimpse of the truth before closing the curtains and sending us off in another direction. I read this book in a single day, and I might just read it again to pick up on all the clues I missed the first time around.