Saturday, April 6, 2019

You Know You Want This

I read a review of You Know You Want This--a collection of short stories by Kristen Roupenian. I thought the review was in the New York Times, but I just read the review a week or so ago and, after having finished the book, went to read that Times review again.  However, I discovered, the review in the Times was in January not March. Same for the Globe.  I get a quarterly book magazine and see a review of the collection in there, but that is not the review I read.  So I don't know what review I read, but whoever wrote it, made me want to take the book out. Which I did.

Here is what I think.

This book is both engaging and very strange. I was sure to include the name of the author in this blog, because if a man had written these stories he would be hanging from his toes somewhere.  All the stories (except for one) deal in some peripheral way with sex and love, and I think that is the order.  One woman meets up with a fellow on Tinder and informs him that he must punch her in the face and kick her in the stomach before they have sex.  Another woman likes to bite.  Not gender specific, but at the end there is a particular male she has her eyes, her teeth, set on.  In another, a princess marries a man, but prefers in the end to cuddle with an inanimate object that is not a conventional sex toy. 

The author writes very well. What she writes about may not be your cup of tea, but she can string words together in an engaging way.  She is best known for her story, "Cat Person." The subtitle of You Know You Want This, (not the title of any of the short stories) is "Cat Person and Other Stories."

"Cat Person" was first published in The New Yorker magazine. I am, I guess, some sort of philistine since I typically only read the cartoons in The New Yorker when I look through the magazine at all. Also, apparently, everyone on planet earth had read "Cat Person" when it went viral.  I did not notice it in the sports pages.

But now I have read it.  I liked it, if you can like such a story. The author describes characters and situations so well. (If you want to know nothing about this story stop here.  I won't give away much, but some in the next paragraphs).

Margot meets Robert where she works and somehow an unlikely relationship evolves.  The relationship is unlikely, but that it becomes the kind of relationship it becomes is not only not unlikely, but what I believe made this story go viral.

What is sad and, I believe, appealing about this story beyond the writing is not that the tale of Margot and Robert is so unusual, it is that it is a story that almost anyone who reads it can say, "This happened to me." or "This happened to my best friend." or "This happened to my best friend" (when it really happened to "me").

The key point in "Cat Person" is the same point that is in nearly all the stories in the collection. The cat person in "Cat Person"--it turns out--may well not be a cat person at all.  Who are we when we have sex, court--to use an old fashioned term-- hope to fall in love.  Are we who we claim to be or some rendition that maybe we don't even know we are pretending to be.  The fellow in "Good Guy" is aware of his ploy, yet like so many of the other characters in the collection he is engaging by being someone other than who he is.

 No wonder there is anguish in relationships periodically.  You are not who I thought you were and I am not who I pretended to be, so guess what, we need to see a therapist.

My favorite line from You Know You Want This: "This is the worst life decision I have ever made."  It is so apt for the moment in the "Cat Person" story.

But maybe it is apt for the entire collection. When we adopt a persona to audition to be a lover, and we engage with someone who is doing the same thing, it is not a great life decision.

Do I recommend the collection? Yes. "Good Guy" is a long short story, but a good one. (if you can get through the first paragraph/sentence).  And "Cat Person" will hang out in your head.

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