Enough with the adultery plots

At 60, I’ve read thousands of books, from trashy beach fiction to great works of literature. And here’s my conclusion:

I am really tired of reading about adultery.

Mia Wasikowska in “Madame Bovary”

True, a lot of great writers have tackled this topic. And some terrific books have resulted. Madame Bovary. Anna Karenina. The Scarlet Letter. I’ve read and enjoyed many of them.

Not only that, but John Cheever happens to be one of my favorite authors, and it’s certainly true that if you remove all the extramarital shenanigans from his oeuvre, you wouldn’t be left with much more than a symbolic swimming pool and a magic radio.

There’s plenty of great literature about infidelity. But there’s a whole lot of not-so-great literature as well. It’s a basic fallback plot device for just about everyone who wants to write a novel.

And I say enough.

Been there, done that

This isn’t a moral position on my part. While I don’t engage in adultery myself these days, my (now defunct) marriage began as an adulterous relationship, so I‘m in no position to claim the moral high ground. It’s just that I’m so damn tired of reading about cheating hearts.

I’ll begin a new book. I’m enjoying the writing, relishing the voice, and starting to care about the characters. Until it becomes clear that the plot is going to boil down to who beds whom.

Really? Again?

I know what you’re saying: Adultery novels have endured because it remains an ever-fresh, timeless topic. I beg to differ. It’s always exactly the same. A and B are together. Will A stay with B or end up with C? (Or maybe even with D?)


Say you’re a writer. Do you really think you can add to or improve upon what John Cheever or John Updike (not to mention F. Scott Fitzgerald) had to say about hanky-panky?

Trust me. You can’t.

Enough is enough

After a life spent reading about every possible variation on the theme of people attempting to escape the bonds of holy matrimony, I’ve come to the point that whenever a book starts to turn into Yet Another Adultery Novel, I close it, return it to the library, and try again.

Of the last five novels I checked out, three of them were about two-timing. The Girl on the Train. The Paris Wife. Gone Girl. I’m sure they’re terrific. I didn’t finish any of them.

I’m not much of a TV watcher, but I recently became a big fan of the BBC sci-fi series Doctor Who. Why? Well for one reason, there are 813 episodes, not a single one of which is about infidelity. The Doctor is an alien Time Lord who travels through space and time having adventures and battling hostile aliens. There are no illicit kisses, secret trysts, or stolen moments. The Doctor doesn’t want to kiss your wife. He wants to defeat the Daleks and save your planet.

How refreshing is that?

A cri de coeur

Am I nuts to want to call a halt to all this adultery writing? Or at the very least, a moratorium? I can’t possibly be the only reader who has grown tired of this topic.

Writers! The next time you’re tempted to pen yet another novel about adultery, I dare you to write about something different. A marriage that endures. A multigenerational family saga with no illicit love affairs. A thriller with a female protagonist who fights crime, cracks jokes, and kicks ass while wearing modest clothing and unfashionably comfortable shoes.

Please, could you just give it a try? Thanks.


For Tom Purdom's response, complete with a list of recommendations for non-adultery fiction, click here.

Our readers respond

Cheryl Nicholl

of New Orleans, LA on June 02, 2015

I am too. But have you seen Grace & Frankie yet on Netflix? Now, that's a new twist.

Helene Cohen Bludman

of Bryn Mawr, PA on June 02, 2015

I'm no fan of adultery, but let's face it: Happy couples in literature can be boring!

Cathleen Sikorski

of Pottstown, PA on June 02, 2015

This is a riot. I guess I don't read enough adultery to feel so intensely. However, those last three or four ideas are great. Write that novel, Roz, 'cause I'd read it!

Ruth Curran

of San Diego, CA on June 02, 2015

Yes -- a marriage that endures, no affairs, and people we can look up to and get excited about. I am in!

Estelle Erasmus

of Fort Lee, NJ on June 02, 2015

It seems that it's an easy plot device these days!

Lois Alter Mark

of San Diego, CA on June 02, 2015

I am so with you. It seems like the whole world is cheating on each other, which I think makes people think it's so common, they may as well do it too. Enough!

Rick Soisson

of Philadelphia, PA on June 03, 2015

Roz, I agree generally with this, but you should have stuck with Gone Girl. I'm beginning to feel the same way, also, with regard to serial killers on TV. A Martian would conclude from our programming that every other house on earth is home to a maniac.


of New York City , NY on June 03, 2015

I agree! That's why I just can't read books like that any more! I do see why they keep writing about it...always makes for an interesting read.

Carol Graham

of Bellingham, WA on June 03, 2015

Never really thought about it. I am not a big fiction fan. I love true stories and memoirs. If adultery is part of it........

Laura Ann Klein

of Denver, CO on June 03, 2015

I haven't really thought about this much but I don't care for novels featuring adultery and it's a morals issue with me. I'm a proponent of non-monogamy and leaving a dead relationship -- after you've tried to revive it -- before the cheating starts.

Mary Lovstad

of Forest City, IA on June 03, 2015

Thank you for saying it. I have hated them since Bridges of Madison County was so popular, even though I'm from Iowa and should love a book about the bridges. It was still just a poorly written book about adultery.

Bob Levin

of Berkeley, CA on June 03, 2015

Let's see, ten women tired of reading about adultery; one man tired of serial killers. Can any conclusions be drawn?

Rena McDaniel

of Greenville, SC on June 03, 2015

I haven't thought much about it, but this made me think back, and I guess Gone Girl was the last book I read that featured adultery. I'm morally against it. I think you either work it out or leave before you start having an affair. Anything else is disrespectful to all involved.

Beth Havey

of Westlake Village, CA on June 03, 2015

Enjoyed your post. I have three novels I have been working on. The one that I hope to publish first includes a one-night adulterous act -- a woman devastated by the loss of her child and unable to communicate with her husband. Not saying she is right -- but I think the way adultery is handled in a novel makes all the difference in the world. Cheating for cheating sake or for lack of anything else to do -- i.e., the hormones are controlling the brain -- I would not enjoy reading. But there are deep-seated reasons for adultery occurring and I think novels that explore that -- not vicarious sex -- can be interesting.

Dianne Morris

of New York, NY on June 04, 2015

Good point. Maybe that's why I love reading mysteries and certain writers to relax. Very little cheating stuff— unless the cheater is already dead.

Stephanie Piro

of Farmington, CT on June 05, 2015

I guess I don't read a lot of adultery stories, either. I read a lot of young adult novels, and I've also been on a roll reading some excellent original works, like Hugo and Rose, by Bridget Foley, which has an interesting "dream" relationship; The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, by Katarina Bivald; and The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, by Scott Wilbanks. Try these! I bet you'll love them.

Kelly Siderio

of Philadelphia, PA on June 12, 2015


November Bondo

of Detroit, MI on August 13, 2017

I agree 100%, even two years later. The last three Netflix shows I watched— Atypical, Grace and Frankie, and Friends from College— all involve adultery as a significant plot line. The two latter shows are completely different but I find them increasingly boring because they use adultery as a crutch to provide drama. I do applaud Grace and Frankie, though, as the show shifts focus to the lives of two modern single white women in their 70s, which is a relatively untouched subject.

Murder and adultery can be done well, but they saturate so much of our bestseller novels and TV shows that it's no longer interesting or inserted creatively. It's much like pop songs on the radio: They sound good at first, but after a while you realize they all sound the same.

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