The Expats by Chris Pavone is described as a “pulse-pounding spy novel mixed with the delicate dissection of marriage” by USA Today. Far be it from me to disagree with that distinguished journalistic body, but when I actually finished reading the book I found that for me, it isn’t so much about the marriage. Even though that is a massive part of it, it is also about being a mom. Let me explain.
Being a Mom Changes Everything
This was a book I “previously abandoned,” a phrase coined by Anne Bogel, of Modern Mrs. Darcy. I started it in early 2014 but didn’t finish it. While I adore a good spy thriller, it begins by describing, at great length, the thoughts and feelings of its lead character, Kate-a newly minted SAHM mom. It was taking a while to get to the meat of the thing. I put it down and moved on to another novel.
I picked it back up after thoroughly enjoying another book by Pavone (The Accident) and seeing this post on Modern Mrs. Darcy about books that start with floundering SAHMs. Oh, I forgot to mention, I was now a mom; I was now a stay-at-home mom. And the truth was, I was floundering.
Being a mom changes everything, including, one’s preference of reading materials. I read Expats, especially those first 100 pages or so, with a new appreciation.
Being a Stay-at-Home Mom Can be Mind-Numbing
One of the things that I was not prepared for when I became a SAHM, was how exhaustingly mind-numbing the role can be. Or at least it was for me.
One passage expressed it so eloquently, I think I cried. Of course, the post-baby hormones were raging out-of-control so that might have had something to do with it but here’s the passage anyway. Kate looks forward to her “weekly” date night with her husband, “the opportunity to share the detritus of housewife-dom, to elicit and receive sympathy, validation. So much of it seemed devoid of value… When she finished the chores, it was time to start each and every one of them again. And her husband had no idea.”
I have a new-found appreciation for my own SAHM.
Moms are Complicated
After reading the book, specifically rereading that first “boring” part, I understood that I was not alone. The tailspin in which I had found myself was nothing new. All moms feel the way I felt at one time or another.
Just because I had a child didn’t turn me into these one-dimensional creatures that exists solely for the safety, care, and happiness of the kid. I am way more complicated than that. I have desires and dreams that often have nothing to do with him. And that’s perfectly normal. And healthy, if I may say so.
However, this is further complicated by this inexplicable desire to want “The Buddy Man” around me badly.
And Kate felt the same: After four hours without them, she missed them; she couldn’t stop picturing their faces, their smiling eyes, their wiry little arms. She spent so much of her new life wanting to get a break from the kids, and then the rest of her time impatient to get back to them.
Pavone is so brilliant at expressing the feelings of a SAHM, I would have thought that he was one himself. After doing a little research, I discovered that this was actually the case. Pavone was in the publishing business for nearly two decades before he started writing; he then moved to Luxemburg for his wife’s job, and became a SAHP. While in this role, he found inspiration for The Expats. Turns out, Pavone knows of what he speaks through experience.
SAHM angst relieving aside, The Expats is a fantastic thriller, often times laugh-out-loud funny, and refreshingly void of violence. I think only a couple of people die and that occurs in flashback. In spite of the lack of this kind of drama, Pavone sets up other dramatic twists and turns that I, who am normally pretty good at that kind of thing, never saw coming.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian describes the book this way: “As much a novel about a woman trying to balance a job, a husband and kids as it is a spy thriller.” Pavone stated in an interview with BookPage, “It is a woman’s spy book in a lot of ways.” I couldn’t agree more with these descriptions. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Don’t forget to join us for our online book club as we discuss The Expats on October 6th – all RCM Readers welcome!