Friday, September 1, 2023

Why Are We So Fascinated with Thrillers about Marriage and Relationships? Guest Post by Samantha Downing

After Gone Girl became a smash hit in 2012, the “marriage thriller” genre exploded in popularity. Eleven years later, it is still going strong. But why? 

My first book was a thriller called My Lovely Wife, so this is something I have thought about a lot. The marriage thriller genre has evolved quite a bit, now we call these books domestic thrillers. They have expanded to include stories about neighbors, coworkers, nannies, and friends. But marriage and romantic relationships always play a role…and usually not a good one. 

One way or another, betrayal makes an appearance in every domestic thriller. Someone cheats, lies, hides something in their past, and this betrayal becomes a driving force in the story. We are fascinated and horrified by the idea that someone we are so close to might do this. Is it because it makes us breathe a sigh of relief that we aren’t married to someone so horrible? Or are these books a cautionary tale, a warning to make sure you know someone—really know them—before building a life together? Or maybe it’s just entertaining to read about horrible, doomed relationships that are filled with so much deception. 

I think it’s all of the above. 

I also think there’s more to it. Few things in life can be as fulfilling as sharing your life with another person. Your whole life. Someone you live with, wake up to, and have children with. You may own a house, cars, have a joint retirement account, along with health insurance, credit cards, even your Netflix account. Piece by piece, your lives have become so intertwined, there isn’t a single thing in your name only. 

This can be the safest place to live. It is also the most vulnerable place. 

There is nothing else quite like it. Even with children, we don’t share at this level. Their name isn’t on the mortgage and every bank account. Sharing every little thing is unique to marriage or a longtime partner. 

For a thriller writer, it’s irresistible. A lot of readers agree. 

Readers are the only reason why these books are still being written and still being published. Every reader is unique, and each one has had their own relationships. Some good, some bad. Thankfully, most don’t include literal skeletons in the closet, murderous coverups, or false identities. But what readers have gone through, and the relationships they’ve had, can come into play as they read these books. 

My latest thriller, A Twisted Love Story, is about a couple who have had a tumultuous, up-and-down relationship for ten years. Wes and Ivy have broken up and gotten back together many times, and each one is more dramatic than the last. 

I’ve already heard from early readers who have a lot of thoughts about this relationship. People have told me it brings up a lot of old feelings—not necessarily good ones—about their past. Others have said they have never been in a relationship like Wes and Ivy’s and can’t imagine it, but they’ve seen their friends go through it. At one level or another, a lot of people can relate to it. 

This, I believe, is the true draw of marriage and relationship thrillers. People who have been in a serious relationship can relate to these books. Not the specifics of them, but the emotions. On one hand, the security. But it’s also the wondering, the guessing, the suspicion that maybe they’ve made a mistake. All of this is common, even normal, when you make the decision to share your entire life with another human being. 

Most importantly, it’s about the fear. This is the strongest emotion we have, surpassing both love and greed to take the top spot. Fear is what provokes our flight-or-fight response when we feel like we’re in danger. Fear is what keeps us alive. 

And fear is what keeps a lot of us reading these thrillers. The idea that we could be so wrong about someone, that we could have been so completely blind to who they really are, is endlessly fascinating. And horrifying. It makes us grateful that there are no bodies in our basements. 


SAMANTHA DOWNING, the author of unforgettable, twisty novels including the instant USA Today bestseller My Lovely Wife, He Started It, and For Your Own Good, is back with another compulsive thriller that gives dangerous new meaning to modern dating. Downing has been called a thriller writer to watch, and for good reason. Her novels take what’s “normal” and turn it on its head, with deliciously fun results. Her previous titles put a killer spin on American marriage, family road trips, and private school teaching.
A TWISTED LOVE STORY (Berkley Hardcover) ups the ante, with a story about the not-so-sweet side of young love and the malignant side of modern dating. Wes and Ivy are madly in love. But their love is dangerous. When it’s good, it’s great: they’re on top of the world, and everything else disappears. And when it’s bad, it’s really bad: they get into violent fights, make spiteful comments—and even commit crime. But that cycle is about to end, fast—because now there’s a detective hot on their tails…
With her combination of edgy humor, wickedly clever twists, and so-bad-they’re-good characters, Downing has nailed her newest and most delicious thriller.

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