Earlier this month a short story went viral. Yes. A short story went viral. I'm not sure that that has happened before. Cat videos certainly have, but Cat Person? Could it be the most talked about short story ever? The Guardian thinks so, although mentions Brokeback Mountain and The Lottery (see my review) as possible exceptions.
Cat Person was published in The New Yorker and was soon taking the social media world by storm. Why? I'm still not exactly sure, but I thought I should check it out.
Cat Person tells the story of a meeting between 20 year old uni student Margot and Robert, a somewhat older man who is a customer at the arthouse movie theatre where she works. Margot flirts with him over a box of Red Vines. Except Robert didn't notice that it was flirting, and neither did I to be honest.
“That’s an . . . unusual choice,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever actually sold a box of Red Vines before.”That's flirting these days? What follows is a rather improbable attraction between Margot and Robert, although each of them works things for their own advantage at times. Margot forges on with the relationship even though she has reservations. Neither of them is particularly likeable, although we feel more for Margot.
He was tall, which she liked, and she could see the edge of a tattoo peeking out from beneath the rolled-up sleeve of his shirt. But he was on the heavy side, his beard was a little too long, and his shoulders slumped forward slightly, as though he were protecting something.I felt author Kristen Roupenian's presence too much, and could feel her manipulating both the situation and my feelings. At one stage Margot realises she may have put herself into physical danger. Margot and Robert "joke" about it.
“It’s O.K.—you can murder me if you want,” she said, and he laughed and patted her knee.Really? Would anyone actually say that? Out loud?
I was rather surprised that it became so sexually explicit, but then I haven't really read much fiction in the New Yorker before, I'm not sure what they usually run- I certainly wouldn't have bet it was this. Perhaps this is just short fiction in a post 50 Shades world? And no, I haven't read that either.
In all, I just didn't really like Cat Person. Yes it has some interesting perspectives on modern relationships I guess, but I just didn't think it was that well written. I felt manipulated throughout, and it all seemed so improbable, even though I'm well aware that the improbable is really the norm. I do see however that when Margot has some misgivings at her situation but then ploughs on ahead with a particular course of action anyway and why many women relate to that.
Kristen Roupenian is a PhD student at Harvard and has certainly made a splash with her first short story. She apparently has a short story collection in the works, and I imagine that will be published as soon as possible next year to ride the wave of publicity stemming from Cat Person becoming a hashtag. (Update Dec 20: Oh yeah- she's set- a bidding war for a short story collection! Surely another first?)
There's been a lot of talk and controversy about Cat Person. It seems women identify with Margot and her actions, and it has struck a #MeToo chord. It also has people behaving badly, relationship by texting, fat shaming and many other modern concerns.
Vox (which gives some other short story suggestions)
There's even been interest in the Cat Person photo. It's actually a real couple recreating Robert's bad kiss. I wonder what the couple think of that?