Books have seasons just like clothes and shoes do. In summertime, when it’s hot outside, you just want to relax you’ll pick a read to match your mood. Personally, I’m going to save the historical biographies and literary short story collections for a rainy day, and break out a great domestic thriller to go with my glass of rosé. They’re what I love to read, and also what I love to write.
The Start of the Domestic Thriller Crush
I fell hard for the smash hit novel Gone Girl. It was the first in an exciting new wave of twisty reads that explore intimate relationships, fraught friendships and illicit domestic arrangements for suspense, horror, dread and thrills. I loved the shifting narrative, the multiple viewpoints, and the incredible surprise halfway through.
But I also loved how an accessible topic that we can all relate to – a marriage that looks happy but isn’t, a cheating husband, a scorned wife – could form the basis for such a hurtling roller coaster of a read.
Gone Girl wasn’t my first domestic thriller. There are a couple of classics that I have read and reread many times over, and that formed me as both a reader and a writer.
The first was Rebecca, a terrifying Gothic tale in which an innocent, penniless girl meets and marries a handsome, wealthy older man and goes to live in his mansion by the sea. He rescues her from a dreary life of servitude, and she wants only to love him and make him happy. But slowly and dreadfully, she uncovers his dark past.
Then there was Presumed Innocent, in which a man in a seemingly happy marriage has a torrid affair, and, when his mistress is brutally murdered, finds himself framed for her death by someone who knows some very intimate things about him. The twist at the end just got me, and ever since I’ve been hooked on those twisty broken-marriage thrillers.
Luckily, Gone Girl inspired a whole new wave of them. Next came The Girl on the Train, a runaway hit novel by Paula Hawkins that became a hit movie, and Big Little Lies, the #1 New York Times bestselling novel by Liane Moriarty that became a hit HBO show starring Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman. Big Little Lies is the perfect example of why these books are so perfect for summertime.
Why Do They Work?
These books take situations we can all relate to easily, and crank them up a thousand notches in terms of the stakes, the suspense and the entertainment value.
Big Little Lies involves moms at a tony California elementary school who wage an epic battle over which kid is the class bully and who’s invited to a birthday party. Those are things we’ve probably all experienced, either through our kids or in our own childhoods. The difference here is that, on trivia night, somebody dies at the school fundraiser, and things get real. The narrative shifts back and forth in time and unfolds from differing perspectives, as detectives interview witnesses in pursuit of the killer. Each protagonist is hiding something: a troubled past, an explosive secret, a marriage that looks perfect to outsiders but is rife with violence.
Lies finds suspense and danger in the everyday lives of women, and in doing so, explores some harrowing truths about domestic violence.
How Did I Use This Trend for My Book?
One of the things I loved most about Big Little Lies was the way it put women’s friendships front and center in the drama. That helped inspire me to write my new book, It’s Always the Husband. Redbook, in their review of my book, noted as well that “the most delicious (and dangerous) drama stems from the bonds of female friendship.”
Marriages, friendships, sisterhood, mother-daughter bonds, all can take hazardous and unexpected turns. And I wanted to press the intensity that exist within female connection and take it to the next level.
It’s Always the Husband, takes those intense female interactions and turns them upside down, exploring the dark side of bonding gone wrong.
Three young women who could not be more different meet as college roommates and, in the pressure-cooker environment of their Ivy League school, become fast friends.
Wealthy, privileged, blonde and gorgeous, Kate Eastman seems like she has it all. But her Park Avenue upbringing conceals a tragic loneliness and a wild side powerful enough to drag down everyone around her.
Aubrey Miller comes from a poor family and can’t believe her luck when she winds up at prestigious Carlisle College rooming with Kate and Jenny. Aubrey would follow Kate anywhere — to parties, to nightclubs, even to her death.
Jenny Vega — bright, pretty, ambitious — is the practical one, the striver, who’d rather study and get ahead than party. She adores her roommates, and she knows they’re bad for her. Will she save them from themselves, and each other, or will she become another victim of the chaos that follows in their wake?
Maybe these three weren’t meant to be friends. Maybe they’re even bad influences on each other. A terrible tragedy at the end of freshman year leaves them with a dangerous shared secret. Twenty years later, older but perhaps no wiser, they return to the scene of the crime. When one of them winds up dead, it could be suicide, or it could be murder. If it was murder, was it the husband – like the cops think – or was it the best friend? Those are the types of questions I love reading about, so naturally they’re what I want to write about.
I hope you’ll pick up a copy, pull up a beach chair, pour yourself a sparkling glass of something cool and refreshing, and find out!