Insta-Stalking in “Like Me” and “A Novel Obsession”

The Fiction Addiction

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Insta-Stalking Readalikes(mine)

When it’s done right, I love a thriller with a blend of polished Insta-perfection and offline dysfunction. I’m thinking specifically of the carefully crafted IG alibis in Social Creature, but it’s a really appealing contrast in fiction in general. Two recent reads, Like Me and A Novel Obsession,  promised Insta-stalking turning into dangerous obsession in New York City.

Like Me(cover art from the publisher)

In Like Me, almost-model and wannabe influencer Mickey Jones seemed like a new Lola Fabrikant plotting her way into One Fifth Avenue at first, ready to remake herself as someone how and successful in the city, before her family funding runs out. But while Lola dreams of wealth and luxury from marrying rich or someday starring in a reality show, in Like Me, Mickey’s goal is constant sexy Insta updates on the path to becoming an influencer. Mickey’s ostensibly the star and producer of her own content, the curator of her own brand, except she mostly does the same sexy poses with the same cute humblebrag captions that she sees more popular influencers use. One of the most enjoyable parts in this hot mess of a novel was Mickey copying Gemma’s tepid manifesto about being true to oneself and not caring what other people think.

At the start of the story, Mickey is obsessed with Gemma, an Insta influencer who seems to have everything Mickey wants, and Mickey’s willing to do anything to have that life, too. Well, sometimes she’s capable of calculation and manipulation, sometimes she just kinda drifts along into extreme messes. I don’t think a protagonist always needs to be likable for the book to be likable, but I need to understand some of their decisions, (and they need to make decisions, not just be present for other people’s actions) and I need to care about the outcome. 

Look, I like obsession stories and unreliable narrators and twisted friendships, but this novel just wasn’t sure where it was going with any of this. Parts of it were an unsolved murder, while other parts were kind of a social media manifesto,  and a little was the promised Insta obsession story. There’s also a weirdly glaring plothole that ruins the central mystery. Sure, we have an unreliable narrator with questionable mental health, but there’s a very simple way to determine if something was real or imaginary —  Is this whole social media drama taking place in a world without Google?!? 

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A Novel Obsesion(cover art from the publisher)

After such a disappointing read (with such a promising description!), I dragged my feet a bit starting A Novel Obsession. This was also described as a story of social media stalking, but in this case, the object isn’t a popular influencer, but her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. A Novel Obsession turned out to be a Manhattan bookworld page-turner.  I bought into Naomi’s Isnta-stalking because it felt realistic. Who hasn’t taken a social media peek? And when Naomi found some information about Rosemary, her boyfriend’s ex, I mostly bought what she did with it. I could easily understand a real person talking a walk in a particular neighborhood hoping to bump into someone else, so I felt like I was being gently led into Naomi’s darker activities. (I could not see a real person drifting into shooting a Lolita porno with an influencer’s boyfriend as part of vague scheme to get closer to her, which is just the tiny tip of the Like Me hot mess.) The book takes readers on Naomi’s slippery slope from discovering her new boyfriend might have a type, to seeing Rosemary is also in the literary world, to arranging “accidental” meetings with Rosemary and sliding into her life.

Also, there are some really hilarious NYC book world moments. Rosemary gushes that booksellers like Naomi are the gatekeepers to literature, which I’m pretty sure I’ve heard publisher’s assistants say to book store staff at book launches. Plus, there’s a lot of rich New Yorker soul searching from Naomi about whether she’s really hungry enough to create great art, and comments on how writing is her first love, before any personal relationship, all of which I feel like I could have overheard at loads of Brooklyn bars. I loved how Caleb was sort of a generic nice guy, and then the boyfriend in Naomi’s “fiction” manuscript is kind of an underdeveloped, generic nice guy, and I just giggled so much in the middle of the creepy obsession story.

Readers will be dragged into Naomi’s terrible decisions, so I don’t want to reveal anything about how the plot unfolds. But I do have to say that I didn’t predict the way the story would end up. In fact, for most of the book, I thought Naomi’s weird stalking and fake friendship would all be undone by Caleb and Rosemary being reasonably well-adjusted people, and the whole mess coming out in a casual chat.

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