Spotlight on Writer Isabel Kaplan and Her Bold Novel “Not Safe For Work” | Our Culture | Home for Arts & Culture

Spotlight on Writer Isabel Kaplan and Her Bold Novel “Not Safe For Work”

The protagonist of Isabel Kaplan’s recent work, Not Safe For Work, stands at a crossroads as she returns to Los Angeles to join the glitzy world of showbiz after college. She’s torn between embracing the superficial glamour that values her for her looks or challenging it outright in an act of feminist defiance. As the story unfolds, she discovers a troubling enjoyment from the privileges her beauty affords her in her career.

Despite her strong bond with her mother, who has her own history of climbing the corporate ladder and now shapes her daughter’s worldview, the protagonist’s life is upended by a sexual harassment scandal at her company. As she rises in ranks and gains insight into TV production, she faces the dilemma of navigating a workplace that often sidelines her work ethic.

In a conversation with Our Culture, Isabel Kaplan shares insights about her novel, its conception during the #MeToo era, and the complexities of navigating modern femininity.

Kaplan reflects on her own experience in the television industry, capitalizing on this familiarity to infuse her novel with authenticity while creating a narrative that is entirely fictional. She emphasizes the tragicomedy inherent in such an environment, acknowledging her personal and vicarious experiences as a source of inspiration for the novel’s rich detail and setting.

The relationship between the mother and daughter in the novel is a tangle of co-dependency and love. Kaplan was motivated to explore this dynamic to demonstrate the variant ways women navigate the world and work. The closeness between them presents a poignant example of how one’s identity can become entangled with others, particularly within the pressures of the workplace.

Leaving the protagonist nameless was a deliberate choice, reflecting her struggles with individuality and identity. Kaplan wanted to spotlight the character’s journey towards self-definition within the confines of her role as an assistant and within the influence of her mother and boss.

The generational perspectives clash within the narrative, highlighting the difference in attitudes towards workplace treatment. Kaplan shows that while the mother draws on her extensive experience and compromises, the daughter wrestles with the stark realities of professional life and her budding realizations on workplace equity.

The protagonist’s battles with body image and societal expectations of beauty serve as a critical theme within the novel. Kaplan delves into the unique pressures present in Los Angeles, discussing how the desire for aesthetic perfection can become an all-consuming quest.

Kaplan desired to approach the topic of beauty standards in an illustrative manner, avoiding a didactic tone and allowing readers to deduce the insidious nature of appearance-focused culture from the events of the story.

The novel also grapples with the dilemma faced by those in the midst of workplace harassment scandals: to stay silent or speak out. Kaplan explains that the book was born from an era pre-dating the #MeToo movement but acknowledges the influence of the cultural shift on its themes.

Kaplan compares the novel’s treatment of workplace harassment with Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill, recognizing the complexity of the decision to ‘speak out’ and the array of potential repercussions.

In lighter moments, Kaplan enjoyed conjuring ideas for fictitious TV shows that the protagonist might greenlight, riding the fine line between plausible and far-fetched.

Discussing the evolution from her young adult novel Hancock Park to the more mature themes in Not Safe For Work, Kaplan talks about her development as a writer, her deliberate distance from genre categorization, and the importance of nurturing her literary voice over the years.

Kaplan concludes by addressing her intentional ambiguous ending, prompting readers to contemplate the choices the protagonist faces, and hints at an upcoming novel already in progress.

For those interested in delving into the depths of appearance, privilege, and the choices one faces in a demanding industry, Not Safe For Work is available now.

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