Vincent Zandri, New York Times bestselling author of the “Everything Burns”, shares his thoughts on domestic thrillers and how they have evolved over the years.
One night, when you arrive home, your wife is not there. You feel your heart pounding in your chest because your have recently convinced yourself 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. Then you find it, inside a manila file folder hidden inside a suitcase in the vestibule closet. Photos.
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.
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.
Domestic thrillers have been keeping us in suspense for generations. 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.
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.
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, 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 you can’t trust?
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.
People often ask me why I write domestic thrillers. The answer: I’m not sure why I do 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 who wants nothing more than to see me six feet under.