Till death do us part…
You don’t trust your beautiful, young wife anymore. The way she crawls out of bed in the morning without so much as a sideways glance while immediately going for her smartphone to check her text messages, as if expecting a slew of new electronic love notes from someone she met on Facebook. Or is it Plenty of Fish? Or Ashley Madison?
She sits across from you at the breakfast table, occasionally working up a half-hearted smile when you compliment her on how nice her lush blonde hair looks this morning. But she’s not listening. Not really. She’s waiting for the moment you leave for work, so she can call the new boyfriend, arrange for him to come over, make passionate love to her in your own bed.
That night, when you arrive home, she’s not there. You feel your heart pounding in your chest because your built-in shit detector has convinced you your wife is cheating on you and now, all you need is the solid proof. You scour the house, going through her dresser drawers, through the closets, through her desk drawers. You find things that don’t necessarily prove she’s conducting an affair, but don’t disprove it either. New underwear. Sexy, expensive stuff that she’s never worn for you. New perfume. A box of condoms. Then you find it, inside a manila file folder hidden inside a suitcase in the vestibule closet. Photos. She and some unidentified man making love in your bed.
You’re devastated. But even worse, you’re mad. Blood boiling enraged. How could you allow this to happen underneath your own nose?
She’s coming home soon. That much is for certain. And you’ll be waiting for her.
You pull your shotgun out from under the bed, and load both barrels. And as you wait for her in the living room, with the lights off, you listen to the voice inside your head that tells you revenge is yours.
“Till death do us part…”
This is the essence of domestic thrillers. Psychological suspense that occurs in the most sensitive of battlegrounds…Behind the closed doors of our own home-sweet-home. Domestic thrillers entertain and yes, disturb the very core of our humanity since there is no escaping the fact that we all have families, no matter how dysfunctional, and we all have homes, no matter how broken. How often do we hear about the nice young couple down the road who seemed to be so in love and still, out of the blue you’re rudely woken up one night to the sound of police cruisers, their bright flashers lighting up the neighborhood. Turns out the young husband has shot the young wife in the head with blast from a double-barreled shotgun. Love is a many splendid thing, but it can also be violent, unpredictable, and downright bloody.
Domestic thrillers have been keeping us in suspense for generations. Remember James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity? In the movie version, Fred MacMurray locks hungry eyes on a leggy Barbara Stanwyck as she descends the stairs in a house she shares with her beastly husband. It doesn’t take an Einstein to know that said husband’s days are now numbered.
Or how about James M. Cain’s other masterful domestic thriller, The Postman Always Rings Twice? That old Greek gas station owner doesn’t have a chance in hell once that drifter pulls into his lot, looking for a job, all the while eyeing the Greek’s delicious young, and hopelessly unsatisfied wife.
Later on, the domestic thriller would take a turn for the creepy and supernatural with Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. Both psychological dramas that would take place within the home-sweet-home, and involve family members who would display such evil that not even hell would take them in.
As the 1980s rolled around, a new generation of domestic thrillers would grace both the bookshelves and the silver screen. Stephen King gave us a terribly disturbed and murderous novelist in The Shining, while Fatal Attraction kept movie goers on the edge of their seats for an entire summer. Owning a pet rabbit would never be the same.
Nowadays, thrillers like Gone Girl and even my own Everything Burns feature stories told by unreliable narrators who are at once likeable, but who are also manipulating us in ways which keep us turning page after page, long after the bed lamp should have been turned off. In these 21st century, digital age psychological thrillers, good and evil are not so black and white, and they perform a delicate balancing act in both our conscious and subconscious, disturbing us all the while keeping us entertained.
If all domestic psychological thrillers have one thing in common it is an erosion of trust. The twisting and turning and general mutilation of the one basic necessity required of all relationships, especially that of blood relatives. It’s one thing to be afraid of ISIS and their terrorist methods. But how do you deal with the terror of a family member who is out to kill you? How do you cope with the woman or man who is lying in bed beside you, precisely plotting out your own demise?
Or are you just plain paranoid?
That’s the other side of the domestic thriller. Maybe the evil that resides inside your own home doesn’t exist at all. Perhaps it’s just a figment of your imagination. Perhaps the evil resides entirely within. One thing that’s for certain, domestic thrillers are always described with adjectives like, “gripping,” “riveting,” “page turner,” “disturbing,” and of course, “horrifying.” They also provide us with something that other varieties of thriller cannot. They make us question our own personal belief in right versus wring. In a word, we can relate on a personal level to domestic thrillers. And that’s what scares us the most. After reading a profoundly tense domestic thriller, you are not only entertained, you can’t help but look at yourself, your loved ones, and your domestic situation in a whole new light. You also avoid mirrors for a few days.
People often ask me why I write domestic thrillers. The answer: I’m not sure why I do it. Truth is, I’ve never been very comfortable in a domestic situation. I feel far more at ease when boarding a plane for a far off land. Families can be wonderful things, but they can also be filled with terror. Maybe that doesn’t make sense to some, but then, what doesn’t make sense to me is staying in a relationship that is destructive, mentally and/or physically. Or putting on a smiley face for the neighbors when you know for certain your spouse is not only cheating on you, but has been looking into a hit man who will put a bullet in your brain when you least expect it.
It’s possible that by writing domestic psychological thrillers, I am providing myself with the kind of psychoanalysis that can only come from an expensive shrink. Perhaps by writing Everything Burns and The Remains, I am purging my soul of some of my greatest fears. Fear of the double-cross, fear of torture, fear of murder that comes not from some unknown enemy, but from someone I assumed I knew as well as myself. Someone I loved with all my heart. Someone I wished to spend my life with. Someone with whom I pledged, “I do”…Someone who wants nothing more than to see me six feet under.