Chris Pavone, Author of The Expats, on Housework

I suddenly become a stay-at-home parent. It was four years ago, and my wife was presented with a fantastic career opportunity, in Luxembourg. My job, the thing that I’d done for two decades—editing books, mostly, and sometimes ghostwriting them—was not something I could do abroad. Not in English, anyway. Which was the only language I spoke.

So I started something else in Luxembourg, a job I’d never before done full-time: taking care of small children and a complicated household.

I no longer received a paycheck. I withdrew cash and paid bills through an account that was replenished entirely by my wife’s employer. I used those euros in supermarkets and farmers’ markets, in bakers and butchers, buying the things that a family needs.

I cooked and I cleaned. Our tiny washer-dryer combo took three hours to finish a load, and could accommodate just four pairs of children’s pants. So I did laundry without ceasing.

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I played with Lego; our twin sons were four. I set up their watercolors, I cut their food, I meted out their discipline. I went to playgrounds and playdates and birthday parties. I sat on park benches, making small talk with other stay-at-home parents – all of them women – who I didn’t really know, exchanging stories about the people we used to be, before we came here, before we became people who did this.

Sometimes in my spare time, instead of French lessons or the gym, I’d go to a café with a laptop, writing a novel about this life. A domestic sort of story about a woman reinventing herself, about a marriage. But as fifty pages turned into a hundred, I had to admit that although my real life was somewhat exciting as well as partially boring, on paper it was almost entirely boring.

So I looked around for excitement to put in my book: private bankers or tax evaders, the European Union or the monarchy, adulterers or spies . . . .

In the end, The Expats is still about the themes I chose from the start: marriage and reinvention. But I deleted most of the passages about boring activities; it’s at least as boring to read about laundry as it is to do it. Instead I added some espionage, and then a large chunk of stolen money, plus an assortment of characters’ duplicities, not to mention the FBI and the CIA and Interpol, and for good measure a dubious gun bought from a Scottish pimp in the red-light district of Amsterdam . . . .

It’s still a book about real life, housework and all. Just a little bit more exciting.

RIFers: a special offer for you! Email for the chance to have Chris Pavone visit your book group via phone chat. With your email, please share how many people are in your book group and when you typically meet (if applicable). We will try to accommodate as many requests as possible, working with the author’s schedule and availability.

About Kira Walton

Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.

  • Ekta R. Garg

    Wonderful! So great to hear from a man on being a “domestic engineer.” No, I don’t think “stay-at-home parent” quite cuts it, and “housewife” is a term solely for the women of the 1950s. I’m a domestic engineer and proud of it! At its most basic level the word engineer means a manager of things, and that’s exactly who I am in addition to being a writer and editor — and the engineer aspect of my role in life is by far and away the hardest. I just wish I could have won a copy of _The Expats_ so I could read it, but maybe I’ll find it in the local library (it’s just not possible for me to buy every single book that captures my fancy based on description alone!) Regardless, kudos on the article!

  • Nancy Ritterbush

    I don’t think there is a difference in a man staying home and taking care of the children instead of a woman. Depends on what suits the man and woman in their situtation.

  • Marcia Aronson

    Terrific thriller. Nice to learn a little about the author

  • Marilee

    I just finished listening to the unabridged eBook version, and quite liked it. I lived in France for 3 years as an expat, so the book’s world in general struck a true chord with me. I never had such delicious illicit adventures, well, none that I’ll own up to at least, but enjoyed living them Walter Mitty style through the pages of the story.

    An American living abroad tries to adjust to local culture and life style, which can be disconcerting, yet despite best efforts, we will always be a bit apart. Even today, when I travel to Europe, even knowing enough of the language to get along, I experience some culture shock and unease. Yet I love to go back … expats often feel the pull to return even when overseas assignments end. I love my home country of America, but part of my heart remains in France.

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