Melanie Abrams
Julius Addlesee
Shelley Aikens
A. Aimee
Jeanne Ainslie
Fredrica Alleyn
Rebecca Ambrose
Diane Anderson-Minshall
Laura Antoniou
Janine Ashbless
Lisette Ashton
Gavin Atlas
Danielle Austen
J. P. Beausejour
P.K. Belden
Tina Bell
Jove Belle
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Ronica Black
Candace Blevins
Primula Bond
Lionel Bramble
A. J. Bray
Samantha Brook
Matt Brooks
Zetta Brown
James Buchanan
Louisa Burton
Angela Campion
Angela Caperton
Annabeth Carew
Julia Chambers
Dale Chase
M. Christian
Greta Christina
Valentina Cilescu
Rae Clark
NJ Cole
Christina Crooks
Julius Culdrose
Portia da Costa
Alan Daniels
Angraecus Daniels
Dena De Paulo
Vincent Diamond
Susan DiPlacido
Noelle Douglas-Brown
Hypnotic Dreams
Amanda Earl
Hank Edwards
Jeremy Edwards
Stephen Elliott
Madelynne Ellis
Justine Elyot
Aurelia T. Evans
Lucy Felthouse
Jesse Fox
I. G. Frederick
Simone Freier
Louis Friend
Polly Frost
William Gaius
Bob Genz
Shanna Germain
J. J. Giles
Lesley Gowan
K D Grace
K. D. Grace
Sacchi Green
Ernest Greene
Tamzin Hall
R. E. Hargrave
P. S. Haven
Trebor Healey
Vicki Hendricks
Scott Alexander Hess
Richard Higgins
Julie Hilden
E. M. Hillwood
Amber Hipple
William Holden
Senta Holland
David Holly
Michelle Houston
Debra Hyde
M. E. Hydra
Vina Jackson
Anneke Jacob
Maxim Jakubowski
Kay Jaybee
Ronan Jefferson
Amanda Jilling
SM Johnson
Raven Kaldera
J. P. Kansas
Kevin Killian
D. L. King
Catt Kingsgrave
Kate Kinsey
Geoffrey Knight
Varian Krylov
Vivienne LaFay
Teresa Lamai
Lisa Lane
Randall Lang
James Lear
Amber Lee
Nikko Lee
Tanith Lee
Annabeth Leong
James W. Lewis
Marilyn Jaye Lewis
Ashley Lister
Fiona Locke
Clare London
Scottie Lowe
Simon Lowrie
Catherine Lundoff
Michael T. Luongo
Jay Lygon
Helen E. H. Madden
Nancy Madore
Jodi Malpas
Jeff Mann
Alma Marceau
Sommer Marsden
Gwen Masters
Sean Meriwether
Bridget Midway
I. J. Miller
Madeline Moore
Lucy V. Morgan
Julia Morizawa
David C. Morrow
Walter Mosley
Peggy Munson
Zoe Myonas
Alicia Night Orchid
Craig Odanovich
Cassandra Park
Michael Perkins
Christopher Pierce
Lance Porter
Jack L. Pyke
Devyn Quinn
Cameron Quitain
R. V. Raiment
Shakir Rashaan
Jean Roberta
Paige Roberts
Sam Rosenthal
D. V. Sadero
C Sanchez-Garcia
Lisabet Sarai
R Paul Sardanas
R. Paul Sardanas
Elizabeth Schechter
Erica Scott
Kemble Scott
Mele Shaw
Simon Sheppard
Tom Simple
Talia Skye
Susan St. Aubin
Charlotte Stein
C. Stetson
Chancery Stone
Donna George Storey
Darcy Sweet
Rebecca Symmons
Mitzi Szereto
Cecilia Tan
Lily Temperley
Vinnie Tesla
Claire Thompson
Alexis Trevelyan
Alison Tyler
Gloria Vanderbilt
Vanessa Vaughn
Elissa Wald
Saskia Walker
Kimberly Warner-Cohen
Brian Whitney
Carrie Williams
Peter Wolkoff
T. Martin Woody
Beth Wylde
Daddy X
Lux Zakari
Fiona Zedde
By: Gloria Vanderbilt
ISBN: 0061734896
June 2009

Reviewed By: Ashley Lister

The longstanding relationship between sex and death is best exemplified by the phrase la petite mort: the small or little death that is the French metaphor for orgasm.  Roland Barthes suggested that la petite mort was the chief objective for reading literature.  More explicitly, and especially in terms of Gloria Vanderbilt’s Obsession, la petite mort exemplifies the binary duality that is the quintessential nature of sexual passion.  On the one hand there is the life-force and vitality that inspires the procreative/reproductive urge, wherein sexual arousal is manifested and all life energies begin.  Conversely, there is the massive expenditure of energy that mimics the termination and expulsion of all life resulting in that much vaunted experience known as la petite mort.  This duality, supported by other seemingly insurmountable paradoxes, is the central theme of Gloria Vanderbilt’s Obsession

A slender tome, Obsession deals with the aftermath of Talbot Bingham’s death and the subsequent effects of his passing.  His wife, Priscilla, is devastated by the loss.  More distressing for Priscilla is the journey of discovery she must undertake to come to terms with the dual life Talbot appeared to have lead during their marriage.

And, constantly, the reader is faced with the conflict of binary oppositions as the dead male continues to control the live female; the frigid wife encounters the libidinous widow; and the truth comes face to face with the lie.  Queen bees and worker ants; monogamy and polygamy; masters and slaves: are all used as metaphors for the conflicting nature of binary opposites combined in a single relationship.

The resonating impact of these dualities is relentless.  Exploring the contrasts between frigidity and passion, fidelity and promiscuity, and faithfulness and fecklessness, Vanderbilt teases the reader with shifting perspectives that show each of these binary opposites is never more than the converse side to the same coin. 

A great expanse of this story is narrated in the epistolatory form.  Again this reinforces another duality (the spoken word in written form) followed by the conflict of first person narratives interspersed with expository commentary from an omniscient narrator.  As Priscilla reads letters that weren’t intended for her eyes, the story also raises the conflict of what should be known and what should remain unknown.

Obsession begins:

If ever two were one, it could be said of Priscilla and Talbot Bingham.  How charmed Priscilla would be to hear the couple described in this Victorian manner, conjuring up old-fashioned valentines with quaint phrases entwined by ribbons and hearts, bordered by paper lace.  For to her, image was all: childless by choice, proud to devote her life “constructing,” as her architect husband might say, “brick by brick,” castle-high topped by a banner proclaiming to the world the success of their partnership.

Tellingly, the story opens with the omniscient narrator’s explanation of the closeness shared by Talbot and Priscilla: so close that this pair are commonly perceived as a single unit.  Talbot and Priscilla flourish beneath the neologism Talcilla: a blending of their names to label their Maryland estate and the name of Talbot’s fellowship of architects. 

The dictionary defines ‘Obsession’ as: Compulsive preoccupation with a fixed idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion… 

The key word here is ‘unwanted’ which again returns us to the duality of an emotion that embodies an overwhelming desire, even when that irresistible preoccupation is essentially unwanted.  It is that ‘unwanted’ emotion which fuels Priscilla’s story as she is buffeted between desire and disgust and ignorance and knowledge on her journey toward self-actualisation. 

Ultimately, Vanderbilt suggests that obsession can be overcome by an acceptance of the dual nature that fuels this irresoluble conflict.  However, this richly layered narrative should leave the reader returning to the text to search for deeper meaning.  To quote Joyce Carol Oates from the back cover of the novel:

In her new novel, Gloria Vanderbilt has created a remarkable tapestry of human passion – an interior world of highly charged erotic mysteries that teasingly suggest, but ever elude, decoding.  Obsession is a poetic tale on the nature of possession and obsession.