Skip to main content

You Know You Want This: "Cat Person" and Other Stories

Review

You Know You Want This: "Cat Person" and Other Stories

If you’ve been on the internet over the last year, you’ve no doubt heard of “Cat Person,” writer Kristen Roupenian’s short story that went viral after being published in The New Yorker. Roupenian’s success with “Cat Person” was a combination of razor-sharp writing and, frankly, good timing, but her voice instantly captured readers’ attention, and it was not long before a debut collection of short stories was announced. Now, a year later, YOU KNOW YOU WANT THIS has officially hit shelves to prove that Roupenian’s brilliance is here to stay.

Here, Roupenian shares 12 vivid, keenly observational and often highly uncomfortable tales on such subjects as romantic relationships turned sour, supremely mean children and, of course, what it means to be a woman. It is clear early on that she is most curious about the contradictory roles that women must play, but she also is acutely focused on the dynamics between men and women. In the first story, “Bad Boy,” a couple takes in a friend who has recently broken up with his girlfriend. As they share eye rolls and snide comments about his lot in life, they unwittingly begin to form a family unit that soon turns as sadistic as it is sexual. It is not an easy entry into the world of Roupenian’s sharp mind, but it is certainly an eye-catching one, and it overflows with her eerie comfort with the macabre.

"Roupenian is skilled at forcing her readers to confront some painful truths, but her questions about life and society form a foundation for the wild situations in which her characters find themselves."

This first display of sadism and violence is a current that runs through YOU KNOW YOU WANT THIS, but it is never gratuitous or voyeuristic. Roupenian is skilled at forcing her readers to confront some painful truths, but her questions about life and society form a foundation for the wild situations in which her characters find themselves. Her second story, “Look at Your Game, Girl,” will remind readers of “Cat Person” in the best way --- it is not only one of the stronger additions to the book, it is also filled with the same creepy promise of violence and mayhem that women will recognize with terrifying clarity.

I was initially going to skip over “Cat Person,” so if you feel similarly, I suggest you ignore this impulse and read straight through. Everything I thought I remembered about the viral story that I read countless times came rushing back to me with new life, and it perfectly sets the stage for the next entry, “The Good Guy.” Here, we meet a stereotypical “Good Guy” --- you know, the one who waits in the background as women make terrible choices dating better men, more handsome men, meaner men, never noticing that he is Right There --- and learn more about how he became the sort of man he is. Juxtaposed with “Cat Person,” this story presents an unsparing and strikingly straightforward look at the dynamics of men and women (basically, not good). Roupenian’s view is frank, yet nuanced, and painfully honest. If you are not completely riveted by the book at this juncture, you have missed the point.

The stories from this point on are some of the strongest. My personal favorite, “Biter,” closes the collection in Roupenian’s trademark grisly, fiercely feminist style --- with a fun twist that made it one of the most memorable pieces in the book. If you read only one story, let it be this one. With its unsettling tension, devilishly fun lack of impulse control and perversely intriguing revenge plot, it represents all of Roupenian’s talent perfectly --- and if I’m right, you won’t be able to stop there.

I’ll be the first to admit that not every story connected with me. I appreciated Roupenian’s use of magic in “Scarred,” but her incorporation of folktale and horror in “The Night Runner” fell flat for me. Similarly, “The Matchbox Sign” terrified me, but I am not sure it will work for all readers. That said, I applaud her willingness to explore various genres, and cannot wait to see how she grows as a writer, as she is clearly off to a tremendous start. Some may balk at the work of a “viral” celebrity, but trust me when I say that YOU KNOW YOU WANT THIS proves that Roupenian’s instant rise to fame was no mistake.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on January 18, 2019

You Know You Want This: "Cat Person" and Other Stories
by Kristen Roupenian

  • Publication Date: January 15, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
  • ISBN-10: 1982101636
  • ISBN-13: 9781982101633