But overall the collection is emotionally slightby Catherine Humble / March 6, 2019 / Leave a comment
In December 2017, Kristen Roupenian hurtled to literary fame when her short story “Cat Person” was published in the New Yorker and rapidly went viral. The story—about 20-year-old Margot, whose first date with needy-prickly, cat-loving Robert ends in reluctant and terrible sex—caused a Twitter maelstrom. It seemed to catch a female experience that hadn’t yet been identified: about women’s ingrained self-blame and pressure to please, especially in the face of a fragile male ego. Just over a year on, Roupenian has produced her first—disappointingly uneven—collection of short stories.
With subjects ranging from a couple who routinely demand a threesome from their depressed flatmate, to a woman’s itchy rash that slowly takes over her relationship, to a girl with a penchant for biting and an obsessive plot to lunge open-mouthed at her boss, the stories here are quirky and quick-witted, in thrall to grossness.
Treading the queasy line between madness and sanity, “The Matchbox Sign” could be a modern-day take on “The Yellow Wallpaper”: are the bloody welts that streak Laura’s limbs the result of a malady in her mind or her skin? In “Look at Your Game, Girl,” 12-year-old Jessica is approached in a park by a strange man with yellow fingernails and very blue eyes, who strokes his thumb across his mouth and slides it inside. The story perfectly captures a childhood mingling of sexual disgust and thrill.
These two stories stand out as alive and emotionally resonant. As does “The Good Guy,” a brilliant psychological portrait of a male narcissist. Unlike “Cat Person,” though, whose punch comes from its acutely recognisable reality, many of the stories take unconvincing turns into the surreal. Revelling in perversion and the grotesque, several of them leave you wondering quite what their point is. When Roupenian treads new territory, she gets you right in the gut. But overall the collection feels emotionally slight.
You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian (Jonathan Cape, £12.99)