Monday, May 28, 2012

Book Review: The Expats by Chris Pavone

This must have been one I picked up based on a blurb in Entertainment Weekly. I'm not sure why, but it's been letting me down lately. Whatever method my wife has been using to choose books (which she hands off to me when she's finished) has been working a lot better considering ones she's recently handed me in the last six months (Hunger Games, Divergent, an old one from 1993 that I'm currently engrossed in). Odd, since it's her subscription to Entertainment Weekly.

In any case, there were parts of The Expats that I liked - descriptions of Europe and the life of an expat - things I've not experienced. I don't know if they were accurate, but I could understand and transport myself into the descriptions, which it something I always appreciate about books. However, there were too many twists and turns, too many tidy endings (think of how movies based on Saturday Night Live characters turn out) and too many people that seemed to have noble reasons for deeds that were far from noble. The depths of deception here was amazing for characters who didn't seem like, in their current actions, to be able to pull off such deceptions.

I've complained a lot recently about a plot device in TV shows that have annoyed me to no end -- an event happens, and then immediately you get thrown back a few days or years. Like the writers feel the only way to grab your attention is to start with the most exciting part and then show you how they got there. So here was a book that starts that way. It was a little better in that it kept going back and forth between the two timelines, changing at chapter breaks and using different typography to help you re-orient. It's almost like they were influenced by Stephen Soderbergh with his use of color and constantly shifting timelines. However, it was less of a gimmick or story-telling device, and more of a way to try to easily show complexity of character and how past decisions impacted current thinking.

But, it was overused, and in several cases, even the flashbacks had flashbacks. That made it downright confusing, and it seemed like the wrong type of device for the type of story. Like if you tried to make a black comedy in the style of a film noir without being campy - it just doesn't work and is more annoying for it.

So while I liked the descriptions, the story not so much. I felt at times like I was just reading because I wanted to get to the end, not because I was enjoying the journey. I described it to my wife as putting the kids in the car, starting out towards a place you'd never been and then reading an awesome brochure for it while stuck in traffic - you'd get more and more anxious to be there and more and more annoyed about the time it was taking to get there.

As always, I hate criticizing a writer's work as I hold writers in great esteem and this book made it to print and I've never written a book, let alone gotten one published. But, if I had the choice, I'd skip this book.
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