Growing up I was fascinated by popular culture featuring obsession. The 2004 film Phantom of the Opera was viewed many times in my household. Helga’s obsession with Arnold in the Nickelodeon series Hey Arnold! was and is one of my favorite television plots. My cousin and I must have watched the 2009 masterpiece Obsessed starring Idris Elba, Beyoncé Knowles and Ali Larter (in which Ali Larter’s character is obsessed with Idris Elba’s character who is married to Beyoncé’s character) a dozen times. I was obsessed with obsession!
There is some discomfort one must sit with when observing an obsessed character. Whether they are obsessed with a person, a place, or an object, the character is always intriguing to me. Lately I have been seeking books with such characters. These books may lead you to a valley of discomfort: tread lightly!
Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier
Pregnant teen works at a pizza place and gets a call for a pickle pizza from a suburban mother and housewife named Jenny. “Pizza Girl” as Jenny calls her, becomes obsessed. Their relationship gets increasingly questionable as the story approaches its shocking climax.
A Novel Obsession by Caitlin Barasch
Bookseller Naomi is an aspiring writer. Her subject for her novel? A woman who is obsessed
with her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. How did she come up with this? It’s very loosely based on her own life. She orchestrates meetings with her that lead to a friendship all under the guise of “research” for her novel. It’s very meta.
Cursed Bread by Sophie Mackintosh
A woman becomes obsessed with a couple in this novel based on the aftermath of a real event in 1951 that gave everyone in the town of Pont-Saint-Esprit hallucinations and a mysterious illness due to either spoiled bread or a government conspiracy.
I Love Dick by Chris Kraus
Chris falls hard for a colleague of her husbands and begins to write him letters. This man doesn’t write back, but Chris doesn’t stop writing. Instead, the letters spiral out into a sort of manifesto about feminism, art theory, and philosophy.
The Employees by Olga Ravn, Martin Aitken
Futuristic workplace fiction in which the characters are interviewed on their spaceship about a room full of mysterious objects that they have been obsessing over. This story is short and nightmarish and delightful.
Paradais by Fernanda Melchor, Sophie Hughes
Two misfit and miserable teens sneak out in a luxury housing community to drink. Each has their own obsession – one with a beautiful, married neighbor, the other with escaping his mother and their village. Together they hatch a scheme to get what they want – with harrowing consequences.
Y/N by Esther Yi
Unnamed narrator is obsessed with a K-Pop star and uses fanfiction to imagine scenarios of her and him. She hears he is retiring and decides to travel to Seoul to live out her fantasies. Sounds like a great plan right, right?!
Saint Sebastian’s Abyss by Mark Haber
Something about the deadpan confidence of Haber's work has the power to convince me that imaginary paintings are real, conjured writers have walked the Earth, and the sky is purple and filled with green clouds. We're all gullible neophytes before Mark Haber's breathless novels. Saint Sebastian's Abyss is one of the first of its kind by an American writer, a sleek novel about Renaissance art, rivalry between friends and devotees, and the meaning of the obsessions that orbit our careers. There's not a single sentence in this book that isn't ecstatic. -- Spencer