Author Chris Pavone discusses latest novel, ‘The Paris Diversion’

05/24/2019 6:00 AM |

Author Chris Pavone grew up in Brooklyn and spent many weekends and holidays in Cutchogue, where his grandparents had lived since 1968. In his early 20s, he took a hiatus from the North Fork, only to return upon meeting his wife, Madeline, renting houses in Southold and, eventually, moving to Village Lane in Orient, where he and his family spend most summers.

About a decade ago, at age 40, he took a different turn, living the life of an expatriate in Luxembourg with his wife and their twin sons. He later wrote about that experience in “The Expats,” which became a New York Times bestseller, and has since written three other novels, including his most recent, “The Paris Diversion,” influenced in part by the events of 9/11.

“We lived extremely close to what had been the World Trade Center and I was home at 8:46 in the morning on September 11,” he said in a phone interview. “I was about to leave for the office when the first plane went by the window, sounding like a cartoon version of a missile going by, and then I sat there in the window and watched the second plane hit. And I watched the first building come down. I watched people jumping, one after the other, from their desks to the roofs of these buildings.”

That whole day, Mr. Pavone said, was immensely traumatic for him. He and his family had been evacuated from their home and moved in with relatives uptown, where they spent months before it was safe to return. His office building, Clarkson Potter — a lifestyle group within Penguin Random House where he worked as a book editor — was evacuated repeatedly over the course of several weeks as a result of various threats, including bomb threats. His colleagues would wander the streets of Midtown until they got the “all clear” to return, he said. This was around the same time that anthrax envelopes began surfacing at some media offices in Manhattan, not long after 9/11.

“Every time a truck made a loud noise on the street people thought, ‘Oh my god. Here it is, the next attack.’ And every time you heard somebody scream, you thought, ‘Here it is. Whatever’s happening next is happening right now,’ ” he said. “And that went on for a long time.”

It’s a lasting emotion, Mr. Pavone said, that he doesn’t think he will ever completely escape.

It was this experience, primarily, along with his travels, that paved way for “The Paris Diversion.”

“He was trying to figure out what book to write next,” said David Gernert, Mr. Pavone’s agent, “and he had obviously published three novels and he had a couple of different ideas. He sent me the opening of ‘The Paris Diversion.’ I read it and just kind of loved it and said, ‘This is the book you should write, for sure.’ ”

With many twists and turns, and a story that parallels the 9/11 attacks — and the ones he experienced the aftermath of in Paris years later, such as the 2016 Nice truck attack that killed 86, the 2015 Paris bombing that killed 130, and the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting that killed 12, “The Paris Diversion” illustrates what it is to live in fear.

“Eventually, it stopped being a thing that I thought about on a regular basis and it became something that was just a distant memory,” he said of 9/11, “until 2016, when, 15 years later, I got off a plane in Paris and found a city that didn’t look like the Paris I’d visited a bunch of times before.”

Soldiers patrolled the city’s quiet, residential streets armed with assault rifles. They walked by elementary schools with their guns, waiting, expecting another attack.

“Walking through Paris,” Mr. Pavone said, “I was immediately struck by how much it seemed like New York in 2001 … I wanted to take our preconceived notions about that generalized fear and our assumptions about who would be responsible for creating it and use those assumptions to trick the reader into expecting the story to be about one thing and having it turn out that the story is about something completely different.”

The thriller centers on Kate Moore, the protagonist of “The Expats.” Kate’s husband, Dexter, and their two children are part of “The Paris Diversion” as well, but the new book, Mr. Pavone said, stands on its own. When a suicide bomber makes his way into the city, chaos is set to break loose — but not in a way the reader might expect.

Mr. Pavone’s favorite books are those that reward the reader at the end, if not throughout. “The Paris Diversion” includes at least one large paradigm shift, and a sense of adventure that Mr. Pavone hopes will deliver an amplified sensory experience to readers.

“To a large extent, all of my characters, even the minor ones, are versions of people I could see myself being,” Mr. Pavone said. “Even the characters I don’t like, they are people who I don’t like because there are things about myself I don’t like, who I’m exorcising, by getting down onto the page and perhaps making a little bit of fun of.”

He said he hopes his readers are able to recognize and sympathize with — perhaps even find pieces of themselves in — those characters and their predicaments.

Mr. Pavone will be on hand to sign copies of “The Paris Diversion” this Saturday, May 25, at 1 p.m. at Burton’s Bookstore, 43 Front St. in Greenport.

Top photo caption: Chris Pavone released his new novel, ‘The Paris Diversion,’ earlier this month. A book signing is set for Saturday at Burton’s Bookstore in Greenport. (Credit: Sam McIntosh)

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