Thursday, April 12, 2012

"The Expats"

Chris Pavone grew up in Brooklyn and graduated from Cornell. For nearly two decades he was a book editor and ghostwriter.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Expats, his first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 is very representative of The Expats, defining the life of ex-spy Kate Moore: the isolation and heartbreak of adjusting to life as a stay-at-home expat mother, tending to emotional, innocent little children alone while her husband isn’t coming home for dinner; Kate’s vague suspicion of him; the creeping sense that she is being manipulated by someone; and the pushiness of her friend Julia. These elements are typical of Part I—setting up the book’s premise, and asking the questions that propel the plot, and introducing the anxiety and paranoia that accompany Kate in her journey through this story about a marriage, wrapped in the cloak of an espionage thriller. Here’s page 69, beginning midsentence—
his chest, his brother silent at his side, both boys cold and tired and wanting their dad, again.

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” Kate said. “He won’t be home till after you’re asleep.”

Ben turned angrily, quickly, and walked away. But Jake stayed. “Why?” he asked. “Why can’t he be home?”

“Oh, he wants to, sweetie. But he has other things he needs to do, sometimes.”

The boy wiped a tear from his cheek. Kate gathered him in her arms. “I’m sorry, Jake. But I promise that Daddy will give you a kiss when he gets home. Okay?”

He nodded, fighting back more tears, then sulked off and joined his brother, who was already busying himself with Lego.

Kate sat down at the computer. She moved aside files—luxembourg rental furniture and luxembourg schools and luxembourg utilities. She waited for the machine to locate the wireless signal. She stared at the screen, second-guessing what she was about to do. What she was hoping to find, and whether or not she wanted to.

It didn’t occur to her that she was doing exactly what she was expected to.

But before she could do anything, the phone rang again.

* * *

“Thanks so much,” Julia said. “I feel completely lost with the Internet down.”

“No problem.” Kate shut the door behind Julia. “I know exactly how you feel. Boys, say hello to Julia.”



They ran back into the kitchen, the excitement of the doorbell finished, to their kitchen service: Ben was peeling carrots, Jake cutting the into chunks. Both were standing on stepstools at the counter, concentrating hard, being careful with their sharp tools.”

“You’ve got sous-chefs,” Julia said.

“Yes.” The boys were prepping for a poule au pot, the cookbook open on the counter, under a shelf containing a half-dozen other cookbooks, all mail-ordered from Amazon’s warehouses in England.

Julia wandered into the living room. “Wow!” She’d noticed the view. “This place is great.”
Coincidentally, this page also references the real-life reason that I lived in Luxembourg—my wife took a job at Amazon—as well my old career: I was a book editor, mostly of cookbooks. I prepared more than one chicken-in-a-pot while we were in Europe, and my little sons did on occasion help me—that is, when they could be torn away from Lego. So page 69 is not only representative of the fictional plot, it also reflects my nonfictional life. Doubly satisfying, as it were.
Learn more about the book and author at Chris Pavone's website.

--Marshal Zeringue