You Know You Want This is a collection of short stories by Kristen Roupenian. I had so much fun reading these stories! Which is sort of a weird thing to say because they are all pretty dark. Some of the stories turn violent, and some of them involve magic or horror elements (although I’m dubious as to whether the horror elements are ‘real’ or just in some of the protagonists’ heads). The stories are mostly about love and desire, and how we can twist ourselves up in what we see in ourselves and what we hope other people see in us.
Does a fantastic job of getting into the head of her male characters. I think she’s spot-on with her characterization of males navigating their twenties and thirties. Maybe that says a lot about me. A lot of the male characters get caught in this loop of wanting to be the ‘nice guy,’ and they play into that, with alternating good and bad intentions.
I guess ‘Cat Person’ is the big draw here, because it was published in The New Yorker and generated lots of buzz. It’s a good kind of character piece, about a ‘boy’ and a girl flirting and fluttering around each other on the months leading up to a very memorable first date. The tone of the story really drew me in, because isn’t sure of herself, she isn’t sure of this dude she’s interested in, and the whole story becomes a sort of mystery. Is this guy a sort of lovable loser? Or is he just a plain loser with some masochistic and mysognistic baggage? The way both characters seem to vacillate and question each other (and themselves) will probably seem very familiar to anyone thinking back on their early days of dating.
The Good Guy follows similar themes, but over a longer period of time and from the male’s perspective. Reading these stories I could totally see Netflix or Hulu snapping up the rights to the whole collection and turning them into a series that would be sort of like a cross between You’re the Worst, ‘You,’ and the new Twilight Zone.
Here’s some micro reviews of some of the stories that that really stuck with me:
‘Look at Your Game, Girl’: Classic, coming-of-age creepy.
‘Sardines’: Excellent vignette of a bad mom and her worse daughter, with another truly skin-crawling ending.
The Mirror, the Bucket, and the Old Thigh Bone: Psychoanalysis by way of a fairy tale.
Cat Person: Again, kind of ambiguous throughout. Where are we going with this? Are we supposed to feel sorry for the narrator’s crush, or cringe at him? But then a slap-in-the-face finale that resolves the question pretty definitively.
The Good Guy: Another excellent, if cringe-inducing, character study.
The Boy in the Pool: Who doesn’t remember watching those late-night cheesy thrillers on Showtime or Cinemax?
Scarred: Magical realism. Love how the main character sort of blithely takes on her role.
The Matchbox Sign: Oof. Maybe I’m choosing to interpret this one in a way that wasn’t intended, but this one was depressing and unnerving in just the right way.
Biter: A perfect sort of snarky, dark note to end on.
This definitely put me in the mood for reading more great short stories. Here’s hoping I can find another collection as energizing as this one. Or that Roupenian will publish something else soon!