It’s fiction, yes. But Kristen Roupenian’s short story about an excruciatingly uncomfortable fling is so damn relatable it’s carving its way through women’s social media feeds faster than you can say, ‘Yes! This!’
‘Cat Person’, which was published in The New Yorker‘s December 11 issue, navigates a brief relationship between a 20-year-old university student named Margot, and an older man – Robert – whom she meets while working in a movie theatre candy bar.
The relationship exists via text message at first. A digital flirtation during which Margot builds her perception of this man, a few carefully constructed sentences at a time (He has cats, he’s witty, hard to impress). Their first real outing leaves her “filled with a sparkly lightness”, their second (a Holocaust film, a few drinks and terrible sex) repels her.
Yet even then Margot is unsure of who this man is, how to treat him, how to act around him, whether that dose of “sparkly lightness” could be had again.
We won’t spoil the ending – trust us, it’s worth the read. But as Roupenian told The New Yorker in a subsequent interview, “The point at which [Margot] receives unequivocal evidence about the kind of person [Robert] is is the point at which the story ends.”
It’s not a complex plot. But, like all the best pieces of fiction, it articulates aspects of life, of culture, in a way that the rest of us have never quite been able to manage.
The sudden unease when Margot finds herself alone with this man for the first time (“It occurred to her that he could take her someplace and rape and murder her”); how despite her discomfort, she rather sleep with him than reject him (which “would make her seem spoiled and capricious”); how she finds herself missing “not the real Robert but the Robert she’d imagined on the other end of all those text messages”.
As Roupenian said in her interview, ultimately, “It speaks to the way that many women, especially young women, move through the world: not making people angry, taking responsibility for other people’s emotions, working extremely hard to keep everyone around them happy.”