‘Cat Person’ by Kirsten Roupenian

My son first talked to me about this story. Other people were chatting about it but when my son told me, I listened (he’s not really a reader so it must be good?) Margot and Robert. A new kind of love conundrum. A state of the nation. A sex war / agenda. The small start – the cinema sighting, the texts. The Cherry Coke and the Doritos. The first sign of trouble with the reveal of Margot’s age. Then the terrible first kiss (always a bad sign). “I want her so bad, I might die.” Then the humiliating sex. And the slow demise. The attempted break-up texts – until Tamara steps in. Then it’s all downhill until the final word. It’s a harrowing read. A tale of caution in this world of app dating and the fictions and delusions of all dating experiences. The construction is spot on. The stages of infatuation / delusion are well-handled. The power shifts just at the right time. Finally, it is disappointing / upsetting but Robert’s drunk revenge is hard to predict or gauge. Roupenian’s pace and control are undeniable. And the fact that the break-up and the counter-attack are delivered by text. How prescient. A writer to watch – Roupenian received a $1.2m advance for her story collection You Know You Want This .

First published in The New Yorker, December 4, 2017, and available to read online here. Collected in You Know You Want This, Jonathan Cape, 2019

‘Cat Person’ by Kirsten Roupenian

Another story with gasp-out-loud impact. I was tempted to select Mary Gaitskill’s ‘An Affair, Edited’ or indeed any one of Gaitskill’s stories in Bad Behaviour, which are all brilliant but I chose to include ‘Cat Person’because it is such an important story in terms of its timing and its cultural impact. The reason the story went viral was because so many women recognised the equation of male-female relations it works out. The last word of the story says everything – with one word Roupenian sums up not just the narrative action but the entire sexual political conundrum.

First published in The New Yorker in December 2017 and available online here. Collected in You Know You Want This (Jonathan Cape 2019