I didn’t expect to be slumming it with a thriller like this, Chris Pavone’s The Expats. But here I am, a hundred pages in. I finished Robert Sullivan’s My American Revolution yesterday afternoon, downloaded the free portion of The Expats last night—about 20 pages—and read it before going to sleep. On awaking this morning, I downloaded the rest and continued.
Why The Expats? A couple of days ago, a New Yorker blog post appeared with the title Best Books of 2012. In it, selected New Yorker contributors listed up to three of their favorite books. There were some familiar choices. Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies. Robert Caro’s The Passage of Power. Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Another had such a striking description, courtesy of Louis Menand, that I would have downloaded it on the spot if it were an e-book.
The best new book I read last year, in fact the best new book I’ve read in many years, is Jorie Graham’s Place, which is a book of poems, but which need not be approached as such. It can be approached as a book by a person who has something to say, and, since she happens to be a poet, says it in poetry—in the same way that Lucretius and Dante had something to say, and also said it in poetry. What Lucretius and Dante had to say was: “This is how the universe is, and, given that, this is what life, human life, your life, really is.” Except that Graham is not interested in the universe, which is a vertiginous abstraction; she’s interested in the planet whose air we breathe and on whose roads we walk. That’s her “place.” She’s also not interested in the way things have been and forever will be; she’s interested in the way things are now, in this lifetime, at this moment. … read “Place.” You will read it more than once.
And then there was Malcolm Gladwell’s selection. I’m no Malcolm Gladwell acolyte, but what he wrote intrigued me.
I loved Mischa Hiller’s Shake Off. I picked it up entirely by accident. I’d never heard of Hiller before, and the book absolutely blew me away. The only thriller this year that even came close was Chris Pavone’s The Expats, but Hiller’s novel has the benefit of mining every trope of the thriller genre while being absolutely original at the same time. I will read anything by Hiller from now on.
So here I am, reading The Expats. Why not Shake Off? That’s a puzzle. I don’t know. I looked into both, and The Expats got the nod.
It is sweeping me along. Not the most elegant prose, but the plot’s the thing, and it has snared me. Mantel and Boo will continue to wait.