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Author Interview: “A Novel Obsession”

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

Feminine rage and obsession have been taking over the media. From “Gone Girl” to Olivia Rodrigo’s new hit song “Obsessed,” our fascination with the complicated and powerful feelings women might experience when dating isn’t slowing down. 

One book in particular has completely captured my book club’s attention. An unsettling page-turner that I couldn’t put down, I quickly became lost in the mind of Naomi as she descended into an obsession with her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. “A Novel Obsession” follows a 24-year-old woman set on writing her first novel. Befriending the ex under false pretenses and suspicious circumstances, the audience peeks into her mind as she becomes consumed with justifying her pursuit. 

I had the privilege of interviewing author Caitlin Barasch of “A Novel Obsession,” discussing her writing process and development of Naomi’s complex character. How does this book reflect on real-world relationships women have with each other? Why do we become morbidly intrigued yet invested in these types of characters? Barasch gives her thoughtful input below. 

How did you get started as a writer? How long have you been writing? 

Barasch: I grew up in a family of storytellers, so with their encouragement, I started writing at age six! My father is a journalist, my mother is a songwriter, my brother is an actor who also writes plays, and my grandfather wrote for stage and screen – it was remarkable to be told, at a young age, that pursuing a writing career wasn’t an irresponsible pipe dream. I don’t take their support for granted!

What are some of your favorite books and authors?

B: It would take me hours to name all of the books and authors who have inspired me over the last several decades, so instead I’ll name a few novels I’ve read in 2023 that I highly recommend: “I Could Live Here Forever” by Hanna Halperin, “What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez” by Claire Jimenez,The Lookback Window” by Kyle Dillon Hertz, and “Big Swiss” by Jen Beagin.

What inspired you to write this story? 

B: I wanted to describe the sensation of performing the self on social media vs. in real life, and to explore how tempting it is to compare ourselves to others. While dating in my early twenties, I also reflected on the weird or unhealthy (but very human!) impulses we all harbor but would never act on – like, for example, my irrational desire to grab a drink with the women who had previously dated the men I’d dated in order to swap stories about our experiences.

So, to write my novel, I decided to experiment by taking that desire to the absolute extreme – Naomi, my protagonist, stalks and befriends her boyfriend’s ex, with disastrous consequences, in a sort of cautionary tale. At the time I was also feeling insecure about my writing aspirations, so I leaned into that anxiety by making Naomi an aspiring writer with nothing interesting to write about.

What was your process for mapping out this story, given the intricacies of the relationships as they progress? 

B: I had many false starts and embarked on several revisions! I wanted to develop the relationship between the two female characters, Rosemary and Naomi, on a direct collision course to catastrophe, alongside developing the romantic relationship between Naomi and her boyfriend Caleb. So, for every scene between the women, I hoped to also explore how Naomi’s deception was weighing on her in the relationship with Caleb. At every juncture I reminded myself to escalate, escalate, escalate, probing the question: how far can she push this before she gets caught?

I’d recommend these next few questions for your book club or post-reading reflections. 

Your writing really captures the thought process of someone losing control over her obsession. Like Amy in “Gone Girl,” Naomi is an example of a character taking their emotions to the plotted extreme. Naomi lives for the obsession, even attempting to justify it to herself while keeping the reality of how much it has consumed her from her friend. As readers, we know that what she is doing is wrong. Why do you think we become so invested in these morally ambiguous women? Why do we love reading about unhinged women?

B: Thank you for such a great question (and compliment). I think unhinged men have populated literature for centuries now, but they’ve been portrayed as deep, complicated, philosophical, misunderstood, etc., while women are simply hysterical, dramatic, etc. Perhaps many women readers (including myself!) are relieved to finally see themselves in all their messy humanity in the books we read.

Your readers can feel the intensity of each moment throughout the book. What was your process to cultivate such a personal connection between the audience and Naomi? How did you dive into Naomi’s warped perspective? 

B: At times it was incredibly difficult to burrow inside Naomi’s insecure and irrational mind, but I didn’t want to look away from the ugly parts of her. I owed it to the darkest parts of me to show Naomi a bit of compassion, even when she might not deserve it. She’s a complicated character – she’s terrified that she’s unlovable, so she ironically behaves in ways that conform to this self-perception. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and a trap, and I want readers to experience the emotional rollercoaster alongside her, and to hopefully empathize with (or at least understand) her fear. 

The inorganic friendship Naomi and Rosemary form shows how calculating women can be. How do you think this builds on real world relationships women have with each other? 

B: Naomi and Rosemary probably could’ve forged an organic friendship if they’d met at a different time, under a different set of circumstances – they have a lot in common! So building a relationship founded on deception was tricky for me, especially because my female friendships are often the happiest and safest and least complicated relationships in my life! And yet my admiration for some of the women in my life has occasionally teetered on the brink of envy, and I think it’s important to interrogate that emotion before it hardens into resentment, and to acknowledge that everyone has their own inner life, and we might never realize the ways in which they could be envious of us, too.

I’m already itching for more storytelling from Barasch; luckily, she isn’t done with her audience. 

“I am very slowly working on my next novel, as well as an assortment of short stories! I’m hoping to share more about these projects in the near future,” Brasch said.

I recommend purchasing a copy of “A Novel Obsession” at a local bookstore or finding it at your library. If you prefer reading on a device or enjoy audiobooks, Libby is a great source for finding free reading material. You can sign up with your library card on Libby and download the app.

Zoë is a junior at Michigan State University majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Bioethics. She enjoys spending her time teaching yoga, reading, crocheting, and caring for her many plants. You can reach her by email at pottszoe@msu.edu.