“Cat Person”
by Kristen Roupenian
from the December 11, 2017 issue of The New Yorker

Kristen Roupenian’s name is completely new to me, and I imagine it’s new to most of you as well. This is her first piece to appear in The New Yorker, and she has not yet published a book. She relatively young and, in her interview with Deborah Treisman, says she has only really committed herself to writing over the past five years while completely an M.F.A. at the University of Michigan. If you do some looking online, you’ll see some of her work and that last year her story “Don’t Be Scared” won the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Award. That story is noted as being a horror story. With some of her work being reviewed at Weird Fiction Review, and with the title of her New Yorker debut hearkening to Val Lewton’s and Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People, I think we can hope for a strange story to get us into the holiday spirit!

I look forward to your thoughts in the comments below!

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By | 2017-12-04T12:44:37+00:00 December 4th, 2017|Categories: New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Dennis Lang December 6, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    Absolutely brilliant! Can’t say it reminds me of the Val Lewton flick, but I’m dazzled by it. An evocation of the inscrutability, that dance of act and self-deception–he smiles, I smile, he tells a joke, I laugh– of wanting to connect to another, of liking and being liked. Heck, he’s cat person. Must be okay! All that we don’t know…

  2. kendall December 6, 2017 at 8:04 pm

    This story comes at an interesting time as society deals with the harassment of women. Roupenian’s story deals with the myth of “the nice guy”, the one who insists and laments that he’s right for you, that he respects your choices, that he respects women, only to be treated unfairly by the women he courts. Margot found herself in a conundrum of sorts, wanting to give Robert a chance, and at the same time, slowly coming to terms that something just wasn’t right. Robert is an ambiguous fellow, he undulates between seeming normal (although a bit shy and awkward), then becomes an entirely different force to be reckoned with. I found myself cringing as Margot becomes increasingly more repulsed with him as they fool around before sleeping together, but she ignores her gut feelings, not wanting for things to be awkward, for him to think she’s lead him on, and in turn, finds herself in a sexual situation that ranges anywhere from creepy to comical to awful. She seems to do lots of mental gymnastics to reckon with the fact that she doesn’t like Robert all that much, so much so, that her friend is forced to take the initiative for her by breaking up via text. Finally, Robert shows who he really is at the end. Where Roupenian triumphs, at least for me, was that I, the reader, ended up questioning myself: was Robert a bad guy, or was he just drunk? Did he just respond poorly because Margot chose to avoid him, letting her friends shutter her out of the bar in a closed circle, not even acknowledging him? But I also had to remind myself that he chose to react how he did. He had no right to question her sexual history, or call her names out of jealousy or bitterness. Margot ignored her gut feelings about Robert, only to have them affirmed at the end. I enjoyed this story’s keen commentary on relationships, especially in the modern age where confrontations can happen (or not happen) via text.

  3. David December 7, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    A very disappointing story. It is a story that seems told with the maturity of someone who is much like the main character, Margot, as if the complexity and difficulty of dating and getting to know someone was a new idea. The story also suffers from being rather inartfully told. Much of the early part of the story reads more like the authors notes for what she wants to convey in the story rather than an actual story itself. For example, this passage:
    .
    From that small exchange about Red Vines, over the next several weeks they built up an elaborate scaffolding of jokes via text, riffs that unfolded and shifted so quickly that she sometimes had a hard time keeping up. He was very clever, and she found that she had to work to impress him.
    .
    Ok, but how about showing some of this exchange? Maybe that was too hard to do. But it would have made the story a lot more of a story. As the relationship develops it’s just not all that interesting. Both characters are relatively uninteresting and socially awkward people, which might be how they ended up dating. I found it hard to care how the relationship would go. But the worst storytelling error of all was having Margot’s roommate, Tamara, write the text to break it off with Robert. I think Roupenian does this to try to preserve the idea that Margot is really a nice person, so the abrupt text is credited to Tamara instead. But Margot does not do anything to correct Robert’s belief that she sent the text and it does reflect what she wanted to say, so she really has to own the text in the end. She allows it to be her words to him.
    .
    Margot’s rudeness in how she breaks up with Robert does not justify his response at the end of the story, but unfortunately Roupenian has muddied the waters so that we cannot actually condemn him for these texts. If Tamara was the one who actually wrote and sent the break-up text, why should we not also consider that maybe the offending texts from Robert were not actually written by one of his friends? Maybe Robert was sitting with a friend and telling him or her about how abruptly and tersely Margot broke up with him and how it hurt him and the friend grabbed his phone, like Tamara did, and sent the texts. We still don’t know at the end what to think of him. By having Tamara do what she did, Roupenian creates an unintended uncertainty that undercuts her own story – in two different ways.
    .
    Coincidentally (perhaps) when thinking about this story I was reminded of an episode of the show Better Things from the just concluded season. It begins with Sam having sex with this guy she is seeing before they go out for the evening. On the drive to meet some other people they get into a fight because he is mad that she always wants them to have sex before they go out, not after. This leads to a second fight after the evening ends and they break up in a rather spectacular way in a parking lot. The point being, the guy in that episode is a much better Robert than this Robert is and Sam is a much more interesting reluctant dater (who fully takes responsibility for the break-up) than Margot does.
    .
    The reason I started the previous paragraph with “coincidentally” is because that episode of Better Things was written by Louis C.K. In the author interview, Roupenian mentions Louis C.K. talking about the difference between men’s and women’s dating experience as a reference point. I know the routine well and it is very good, as are a number of C.K.’s takes on dating. It reminded me that he has written much better about the very ideas that she seems interested in. Margot’s comments about the possibility of violence seem more paranoid than reasonable concerns. C.K. manages in his humour to convey much better the reality of those worries and the absurd (but real) asymmetry in the dating experiences of men and women.
    .
    That The New Yorker published someone with as little a publication history as Roupenian has and who is working on a book of short stories suggests to me that in a few months time we might see another story by her in their pages. I hope that maybe next time she will have done one or two more re-writes to get to some place better than where she ended up this time. The story is not all bad. Just disappointing.

  4. Andrea December 7, 2017 at 6:49 pm

    I adored this story; it resonated with me so much. I often cringed, recalling the flurry of online dates I went on in my early 20s – everyone was outside my social circle, which was alternatively thrilling (a new person I can learn all about!) or disappointing (ah, their witty texts belied a supremely awkward personality). And her fears were not misplaced – I have blamed myself for experiencing an assault after an online date, and in my own apartment. I can’t imagine being in a stranger’s home, like Margot, experiencing a quick onset of dread with no easy escape.

    I write also to take issue with the above comments – David references Louis CK, writing “It reminded me that he has written much better about the very ideas that she seems interested in. Margot’s comments about the possibility of violence seem more paranoid than reasonable concerns. C.K. manages in his humour to convey much better the reality of those worries and the absurd (but real) asymmetry in the dating experiences of men and women.” For one, #MeToo has shown that practically every woman has faced harassment and violence, making her seem not so paranoid at all. And second, it is quite rich to compare the author unfavorably to CK’s riffing on men’s and women’s experiences, when CK has harassed women over decades. I would refrain from using his art as a reference for dating truisms, unless it’s to point out the irony.

  5. kendall December 7, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    David’s comments on the ambiguous nature of Robert’s final texts got me thinking. It’s true that we don’t know for sure if Robert sent the texts, but even if he didn’t, should we still not condemn him? Yes, Tamara’s text was short and blunt when she took Margot’s phone; however, let’s say Robert’s “friend” did take Robert’s phone and decide to bombard Margot with text after text, this shows two red flags. Robert is 34 years-old, not twenty as Margot and her friends. He should have the maturity to a) not send those texts b) not allow his “friend” to send those texts. Said friend would most likely be in the same age group as Robert, too old to be harassing a young woman nearly fifteen years their junior, let alone cursing her for her sexual promiscuity. Additionally, if it was Robert’s “friend”, this person knows some pretty explicit details. The fact that whether or not Margot was a virgin that was discussed in bed, for instance. So now Robert once again would show his true maturity, by kissing and telling so to speak, of these explicit details to a friend. The personal nature of the texts feels like a true bone to pick though, outside the realm of what a friend might say. Friend or not, these are all red flags, condemnations of Robert’s character (or the characters he hangs out with) and Margot dodged a bullet. Additionally, if it were a friend, while we never get a chance to see it because the story ends, Robert never clarifies “that was my friend, I fell asleep, I’m sorry” or something to that degree. He knows he’s lost Margot forever and has no qualms with letting his true nature shine through. The friend theory got me thinking, but I feel it’s unlikely.

  6. David December 7, 2017 at 10:31 pm

    Andrea – You seem to have missed the fact that the author herself referenced Louis CK first. Let me quote that part of the author interview for you:
    .
    Louis C.K., who has obviously been in the news a lot lately, echoed Margaret Atwood’s line “Men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them” in a stand up routine, by talking about how the equivalent of a woman going on a date with a man would be a man going on a date with a half-bear, half-lion. In the bar, Margot thinks of Robert as “a large, skittish animal, like a horse or a bear,” that she is taming, coaxing to eat from her hand.”
    .
    It’s clear CK is an influence on her thinking about this, which is why she brought him up. She also explicitly suggests Margot’s comparison of Robert to a bear is derived from CK’s routine. But further, you might want to check out a discussion we had here a few weeks back when we discussed Joseph O’Neill’s “The Sinking of the Houston”. There one of the issues was what external information is relevant to consider when evaluating a piece of art. Many of us agree that a piece of writing stands or falls on its own merits. This means that the author might be a despicable person, but that does not change the quality or the value of a piece of writing he might have done. You seem to only want to discuss something CK wrote to note ironies with his life. That might be fine if the topic of discussion is his life, but here it isn’t. He wrote a script for a TV show that is a very strong piece of writing. It is a better discussion of dating than this story is. Those things are true regardless of how he has acted in his life. You need to separate the two things or just admit that you are not interested in discussing the texts. Roupenian seems to think that he has had something interesting to say about dating. I agree.
    .
    You also note that “#MeToo has shown that practically every woman has faced harassment and violence.” Yes. And the routine that Roupenian references shows that Louis CK has been saying that already. But the fact remains that the way it is introduced in the story makes it seem more like a random, paranoid thought that Margot has than a reasonable worry. That’s not to say that the worry isn’t reasonable. It is just to say that Roupenian does not make it appear reasonable.
    .
    .
    Kendall – Tamara is merely Margot’s “roommate”, not even a “friend”, yet Margot tells her all about Robert and their dating. In fact, we are told that she has been going on about Robert for an hour before she grabs the phone and sends the text. It is not crazy to think that Robert might know people he might want to spill his guts to about the relationship, especially when it goes so badly and he wants to try to fix it. The only detail he would have had to tell someone to make the texts possibly from someone else is that she laughed when he asked if she was a virgin. That seems like something he might well tell someone. For example: “I was such a jerk to her! I even asked her if she was a virgin! What was I thinking?” If he beats himself up enough about how he acted in the relationship when venting to a friend, I could see how someone hearing that might decide that Margot is to blame, especially after the text Tamara sent. Do I think someone other than Robert sent the texts at the end? The problem is I don’t know and when I read the story I immediately wondered if he really did. That killed the ending of the story. Even Deborah Treisman asked in the interview the questions, “Which of these characters do you feel the most sympathy for, at the end of the story?” and “Do you think that she ever actually interprets his thoughts or behavior correctly?” These seem odd things to ask if you read the story as having as “unequivocal” an ending as the author thinks it does.
    .
    You also say, “Robert never clarifies ‘that was my friend, I fell asleep, I’m sorry’ or something to that degree.” This again is a fault in the writing. The story ends the moment the texts are sent. We have no idea what happens next. It’s possible a moment later he will do the very thing you suggest. It’s even possible he didn’t know the texts were sent from his phone until much later (eg; “I was in the bathroom when my friend sent those texts.”) The main point is not that this really is what happened, but that these possibilities should not be even on the table for the reader. Had she written it better, they wouldn’t be. It seems not only did Margot not have the guts to break it off with Robert herself and needed Tamara to do it for her, the same is true of the author.

  7. MEH December 8, 2017 at 1:54 am

    I feel like I must have read a completely different story.

    Margot manipulates Robert into a relationship and then sex, all the time thinking how he didn’t deserve her (because he was bad at kissing?), then immediately ghosting him, ultimately breaking up with him in the cruelest way possible.

    She clearly held all the power in that relationship, got everything she wanted, and discarded him with barely once she got what she wanted – she used him life he was a second class citizen.

    An interview with the author, she wonders if maybe Robert raped Margot. She says she had more sympathy for her as well. But from where I’m sitting, Robert is upset that he had a run in with an emotional terrorist who treated him as a disposable sex toy. His anger is reasonable, (even if his actions aren’t appropriate at the very end).

    Thanks!

  8. kendall December 8, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    David, I think this story ends abruptly with Robert’s last texts for a reason. I couldn’t help but notice the link between the two scenes when Robert really let’s it all hang out so to speak. The first happens when he and Margot are about to sleep together. “We’ll take it slow” he says, but proceeds to flip her into different positions, and say crude things to her as the sex continues. He doesn’t even test the grounds for dirty talk, he just delves right in. I felt like this stemmed from having Margot right where he wanted her, having sex, and now he had nothing left to lose. The same can be said for the ending scene for the texts. He knows the relationship can’t be salvaged. She didn’t even want to say hi to him, so once again, he has nothing left to lose and sends her harassing texts. I thought the link between these two scenes, whether the author intended it or not, was interesting and powerful.

  9. Dennis Lang December 8, 2017 at 9:31 pm

    Maybe I’m entering this story from my usual oblique angle, but I found both Margot and Robert highly sympathetic characters. Each equally vulnerable, gamely in pursuit of the elusive romantic connection, while both trapped–as most of us are–in our own predispositions and ruminations, imaginings of how the other sees us and thinks about us, hoping it’s in the brightest light. But of course there’s no assurance any of are seen as we might wish to be seen or that our self-perceptions align with reality. To me, this is the story. Beautifully written. We can feel Robert’s agonizing awkwardness, finally his angered self-deprecation, alone with his beer, Margot avoiding him. And Margot’s abject disillusionment with the whole adventure–and empathy.

  10. Nicky December 9, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    It’s interesting to me how many people have a sympathetic view of Robert. And how MEH views Robert as a victim.

    Nearly all the sympathetic interpretations of Robert, from which I think readers derive their sympathy, come from Margot. They are nothing more than interpretations. Most direct information about Robert isn’t nice. From the start, he talks down to her, calling her concession-stand girl, also after learning her name, and says she’s doing her job better now, because she managed not to offend him. He also makes her restart the conversation every time she doesn’t respond immediately, punishing her with short, court messages for delays. She moves into the role of pacifying him.

    When she complains about being hungry, he buys her snacks at a 7-Eleven. He is 34, lives in a house, has a car, she is a college student. Taking her out for dinner or doing something a little nicer surely wouldn’t have been difficult for him, but it’s a 7-Eleven snack. After the break, he won’t see her for a while, saying he’s busy.

    During the first date, he says little, but points out that she hasn’t dressed up for him. There’s no dinner but he buys her alcohol after finding out she is underage. In the conversation over beers he makes disparaging comments about her presumed film snobbishness until she pacifies him by disparaging herself and her intelligence. He only responds positively to her when she puts herself down or cries. He then takes her home after noting she is drunk.

    Once she is naked, he doesn’t try to find out what she enjoys. While assuring her he’ll take it slow, he doesn’t, and shifts into porn mode once they have sex, says crude things to her, and doesn’t care about how she feels. He orgasms, she doesn’t and hasn’t enjoyed it and feels disgusted with herself, with self-disgust not being a sign of a positive sexual experience. Afterwards, he is mainly concerned with his own emotions, talking a lot about himself.

    Margot assumes all the responsibility in this connection, seeing herself as the one responsible for his emotions to the degree that she will even ‘bludgeon her resistance into submission’ with more alcohol to have sex against her will, just to avoid hurting his feelings.

    A lot of that text is full of Margot’s positive interpretation’s of Robert’s behaviour, her assuming responsibility for his emotions and blaming herself, thereby creating as much sympathy for him as she possibly can.

    If you just look at what the reader actually knows about Robert’s behaviour outside of Margot’s interpretations, you’ve got a 34-year-old who often talks down to a 20-year old, buys her alcohol and once she is drunk takes her home on the first date and then fucks her the way he likes it without checking once if she is actually enjoying it. And then he gets angry and insults her when this, for him very easy situation involving minimal effort, doesn’t continue.

    I thought it was very well written, tempting the reader to accept a version of events where she assumes responsibility for everything and offers endless positive interpretations of someone she doesn’t know, coming up with excuses for his behaviour. In reality, the idea that when a 34 year old and a 20 year old go out, only the 20 year old is responsible for what happens, is perfectly mad. I found the Robert character outstandingly creepy.

  11. frymax December 10, 2017 at 10:40 am

    Nicky’s comment nailed it.

  12. Dennis Lang December 10, 2017 at 11:06 am

    Sure, Robert is a rotten date. Self-absorbed, unthinking, awkward, unsophisticated. Do these weaknesses make him reprehensible–or another flawed human being lacking in understanding and desperate to connect? Richly drawn by the author in my view.

  13. Sean H December 10, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    I was put off at the outset because Red Vines vs. Twizzlers is quite the hot pop culture debate, and movie theaters have been selling red licorice since I was a kid; it’s not an odd selection at all. I get that the close-third-person narrator says she’s flirting, but she’s either stupid or ignorant then, and it doesn’t make me confident that the author really has a command of the necessary distance between writer and character in the close-third context. A story can have a dumb, ignorant, silly protagonist; I’m just saying it wasn’t a strong start.

    Lumberjack guy/Robert she captures better, but the whole meet-cute and then the texting and then the convenience store thing, it all feels a bit cliché at this point, or if not outright cliché then unoriginal.

    I don’t think this author has ever heard of Cat People, the movie(s). And before I even read the story I thought this site might be giving her too much credit and thought of the line “No, she probably just means ‘dog people’ and ‘cat people’ – millennials aren’t dumb, they’re just shallow.” Read the work of Nicholas Carr (author of “Is Google Making Us Stupid” and The Shallows) if you haven’t yet. It’s not the millennials’ fault, it’s the technology they grew up submersed in that’s made them so shallow. Very early on in this story it was pretty clearly going to be shallow millennial stuff. And it is.

    Other evidence? OK. This line flat out sucks: “On the walk back to her dorm, she was filled with a sparkly lightness that she recognized as the sign of an incipient crush.” That’s really dreadful prose, New Yorker.

    The New Yorker is too easily ensorcelled by the “next new thing.” It’s their way of trying to stay “young and hip.” Oooh, a young Armenian-American woman writing about emojis, let’s publish that! This is why they loved Junot Diaz too – oooh, a Dominicano who mixes English and Spanish together and uses curse words, ooo-wee. Stop trying so hard. You’re like the 50-year-old guy who thinks no one can tell he dyes his hair even though it’s a completely unnatural shade of brownish-red.

    The cluttered car and “not gonna murder you” were completely predictable. At this point I was ready to give up on the story but I’m a finisher.

    The paragraph that starts with “Margot sat on the bed” is also painfully bad. I had started to be won back over a bit, or at least interested in these two characters, just to see where the author would take it, or if it was going to be a total MFA story based all too predictably on shit that had happened to the author. It also began to reek of millennial narcissism, of a woman who’s not all that pretty in real life but who thinks she’s a knockout and unironically refers to herself as “beautiful.”

    It was also quite obvious that the character was the kind of girl who in high school picks a gay guy as her boyfriend, so I laughed out loud when I came to that scene. Sooo predictable.

    And despite all this badness, she could have saved the story with a simple structural move. After they have sex, tell the events of the story over again from Robert’s POV! That would’ve shown she actually had talent and skill and imagination as a writer. This story just shows misandry and self-pity. And a millennial expectation of things to go perfectly. Adults realize that sex is usually awkward the first time, and the partners need to actually communicate instead of internally blame the other person for not being a mind-reader. Like anything, you get better at it with practice.

    If he was actually a murderer, that could’ve been interesting. If she falsely reported it as rape the next morning because it was an unenjoyable experience, that could’ve been interesting. If any of the sentences had been memorable or well-wrought, that could’ve been interesting. Instead, I’m left rethinking my position of always finishing stories once I start them.

  14. Brooklyn to NZ December 10, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Impressive writing. I can see why it was chosen by the New Yorker Roupernian really gets the power and control swing – the sense of ”I’ve got the one – maybe” All the way through it’s a case of be careful what you wish for. The two characters are pencil sketched – a bit like illustrations in original The Joy of Sex rather than an updated Joy of Sexting – so rather than read from the characters POV, So although at times I felt like I was reading a graphic novel in Braille, I still had the sense of feeling like a voyeur – like screaming – No No Don’t go down those particular cellar stairs.

    Although there was no physical violence, the potential for this to occur was blatant as expressed by Margot ‘inner child voice’. She’s young and the bulletproof persona she adopts is more made of a child’s spun sugar treat than steel Robert, on the other hand, is perhaps even less experienced and his fantasies are much more dangerous. He imagines himself to be a predator – a pathetic one yes – but Roupernian makes his lack of control dangerous – like something out of country and western song – an angry big rig truck driver who’s wife just left him – a disaster waiting to happen. Easy to imagine his mother embalmed in the attic.

    So was Robert a creep? Definitely. But Robert as victim? I think not. Had Margot masochistically continued it may have morphed into something Margot would definitely not laugh about with any mythical boyfriend.

    Margot as the victim? My verdict is Maybe. Though a victim of her own imagination more than anything else. We don’t really know what friendships or what kind of relationships she’d had in the past – she was a virgin of sorts – but what kind of sorts we really don’t know. So again the sense of detachment from both characters – hard to feel compassion for self-indulgence. This may be the nature of online dating – or the reality for those who have only known online dating.

    Brave of the New Yorker to publish a so unpublished writer- but I found #5 Bad Boy – similar cadence only in this one only the gender of the victim/non-victim is known, the others in the story are ‘We’. Roupernian does a good creepy and while her writing doesn’t grab me and speak to my life like Lahiri’s early work did and current work does, Roupernian is definitely one to watch out for and read.

  15. Arthur December 10, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    Mainly responding to Nicky here. I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge that Robert has plenty of dismal personality traits, but to remove all responsibility from Margot is just as mad as assigning all of it to her.


    “From the start, he talks down to her.”

    The spark of this entire relationship began with Margot talking down to him. “That’s an… usual choice.” Robert returns on another day with a similar quip and she responds in kind. Followed by a third encounter where Robert believes this interaction is an adult equivalent of grade-schoolers insulting the person they like because they’re too scared to acknowledge their feelings.

    I found this part of the story immensely relatable. It seems everyone in the millennial generation has taken up this detached nihilism when it comes to interacting with other people. A race to the bottom for who cares the least about maintaining a relationship. This continues through their texting where each of them plays this game of showing them how much they don’t care to continue the conversation. Margot will purposefully take hours to respond, Robert will be short and uninviting. What brings them back together? Memes from the internet, apparently:

    “A few times, she got distracted for a day or so and wondered if the exchange would die out altogether, but then she’d think of something funny to tell him or she’d see a picture on the Internet that was relevant to their conversation, and they’d start up again.”


    It’s really no surprise that this awkward approach to interaction leaves Robert unsure that Margot sees him in a romantic context at all. Their date involves no physical intimacy whatsoever. No hand holding, no arm around the shoulder — and why should it? These two people do nothing but insult one another. It’s clear that Robert was excited for this, he had dressed up, he picked a movie that he actually wanted to see and thought that, by Margot agreeing to it, she had wanted to see it to. But that turned out not to be true: she makes fun of the movie he picked, he notices that she didn’t dress up. Maybe he read the signals wrong. “I’m this 34 year old idiot who thought a 20 year old wanted to go on a date with me. What am I doing? I should take her back.”

    Margot realizes this is what he’s thinking and feels bad. She doesn’t want it to end and tries to recover the situation. She actively commits to drinks, after he gives her two potential outs. “If you want,” (do you want to?). “I can take you home.” She rejects both. Maybe, Robert thinks, this is a sign she actually likes me? Robert relaxes at the bar, things are going ok. Then she initiates the rest of the evening. Leads him by the hand out of the bar, kisses him, straddles him in the car. But wait, she’s drunk. This isn’t what she really wants. He offers to take her home, he offers to go to her place — both of which would allow her an exit if she wanted to end this when she sobers up. But no, she decides to go to Robert’s place. Which she dreads the moment she steps inside. She keeps drinking. But also continues to feel dread about setting in motion events that she can no longer stop, she doesn’t surface any of this to Robert.

    Why did she do those things? Why not take the out? Why feel like you can’t hit the brakes when the brakes were offered to you multiple times?


    It seems men and women have different reads on the sex that Margot and Robert have, but from my view it seems that Robert is very inexperienced sexually. Evident by him asking her if she is a virgin, which I read as a projection of his own concerns that she’ll discover he’s inexperienced. I’m not surprised that he seems to resort to pornstar tactics like dirty talk and slapping. He’s repeating the movements he’s seen so many times before, unaware that that’s not how the real world works.

    His inexperience is made even more evident by him outpouring his feelings after sex. This is a special event for him. He feels he’s entered a new echelon of a relationship and can finally unburden all those things he’s seen in the movies: this is how I really feel, this is who I really am. I can show these things because we’ve shared this deeply personal experience. Of course this is all false. Sex can be quite meaningless as he soon discovers.

    To frame this as “he is mainly concerned with his own emotions” is an uncharitable view of someone who is immensely self-conscious about doing something they have no experience with. I read their cringe-worthy sex as a testament to Robert’s ineptitude, not a red flag that he’s a self-centered psychopath.


    Despite being somewhat culpable (arguably, more culpable) in the encounter, Margot feels like she has inherited a problem that she doesn’t deserve. She talks about “wishing him away.” From Robert’s perspective, this is complete lunacy. “I gave her an out. I gave her multiple outs. She didn’t have to get drinks. She didn’t have to come over. We didn’t have to have sex. If she did all those things then she must’ve wanted to. What changed?”

    This is the question Robert has for her: What did I do wrong? What did I do to deserve this? Margot admits in her own inner dialogue that he didn’t do anything wrong.

    Unsurprisingly, Robert comes to the same conclusion. He didn’t do anything wrong and he gets drunk and angry.


    I wanted to read discussion because I can acknowledge that women read signals and interpret events very differently, but from what I’ve read in these comments is Robert’s mistake wasn’t made during the date but years prior when he became an undesirable. He should’ve had teenager experiences that taught him how relationships are supposed to work, when everyone is awkward and no one has a clue what they’re doing. When it’s ok to make mistakes and it’s ok to have no idea what you’re doing. But he’s missed his chance. He’s no longer an innocent person trying to figure himself out. Now he’s a creepy old man. Now he’s a villain who terrorizes the pure.

    What happens to the Roberts of the world? Apparently they’re pilloried by internet comments. Their biggest fear comes true. They’ve become a joke. Everyone is laughing at them. It’s sad.

  16. Nicky December 10, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    It is interesting to me how you feel only for Robert, Arthur. The protagonist felt disgusted with herself after the experience, and she was scared of him. She forced herself to have sex with him to spare his feelings. She already did a lot more for Robert than Robert ever did for her, at great cost to her sense of self. Where in the story does Robert make a similar sacrifice to spare her feelings? Meanwhile, what seems most terrible to you is the idea that people laugh at Robert. Forcing yourself to have sex you don’t want to have and learning self-disgust as a result, versus people laughing at you. Why does being laughed at strike you as the worse experience? And given that Margot’s biggest fear is that Robert might murder her, while you think Robert’s biggest fear is that he will be laughed at, you are essentially expressing exactly what Margaret Atwood once said: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” Only that you are saying that the fear of being laughed at deserves greater sympathy and protection.

  17. Leigh December 10, 2017 at 11:30 pm

    Sean H, your speculations about the writer are offensive and as wildly off-base as your critiques.

  18. Harri T December 11, 2017 at 2:23 am

    “Cat Person” ´s literary values may be questionable, but it certainly is a success as a psychosocial story.

    When I write this on Monday 11th, “Cat Person” is “New Yorker” magazine´s most popular article and the author interview is number 3. Word has got around in social media.
    Deborah Treisman asks right questions in “This Week in Fiction” and Kristen Roupenian explains nicely what she tries to bring about in the story. Unusually successful interview.

  19. Arthur December 11, 2017 at 3:03 am

    Nicky — I want to clarify that I sympathized with Margot’s situation as well, but I was mostly responding to you and as such ended up mounting a defense for feeling sympathy for Robert because I’m getting the sense that some readers believe you’re not supposed to feel for him. To me, the story was about the dismal scene of dating in our current world and two people incapable of communicating effectively leading to a miserable time for both of them (for different reasons).

    I also want to note that the story is told with Margot’s interpretation being surfaced to the reader, but we don’t know for certain what Robert is thinking so it makes sense we get a lot more information on what she considers sacrifices whereas that information is not available for Robert. So asking where he sacrificed is a question that’s set up not to fail because there’s no way to know. But I also think that type of thinking is unfair which brings me to the two main issues I have with your response.


    For one, in the context of the early first dates, no one should be “sacrificing” anything. If Margot didn’t want to do something on the date she should’ve said so.

    Which goes into your main reason why she couldn’t possibly do that: the fear that rejecting a man will lead to your death. I won’t deny that men have an obvious physical advantage over women or that that type of thing does happen, but in the context of this story it is completely irrelevant.

    Robert is not a psychopath. He senses that Margot does not want to be on the date and that is why he gives her opportunities to get out. He offers to end the date after he movie, he offers to take her back (twice), he tells her she’s drunk and is going to take her home, he offers to go to her place. She rejects all of these. She continues the date. She insists on the drinks (as opposed to your redressing of “buys her alcohol after learning she’s underage”). She gets physical when he says he’ll take her home. She’s the one to suggest they go to his place.

    At any one of these instances Margot could’ve said she wanted to go home and we have every reason to think Robert would have brought her home. He’s the one who brought it up repeatedly. This fear of assault or death is unwarranted.

    What’s frustrating is if Margot had cut it off when she wanted to, I have every reason to believe the rest of the story would not happen. Nobody gets hung up on someone they go on one date with. But giving mixed signals, being hot and cold, stringing them along and then cutting them off in the iciest way possible will absolutely infuriate someone. That’s not exclusive to guys.

    I invite you to consider a thought experiment: What if the story was about a woman being wooed by a man, they had sex, and then he ghosted her? The man would rightly be called inconsiderate, manipulative and cruel. Margot has an understandable defense that distinguishes her from that critique: her cruelty was not intentional. She’s 20 years old. She hasn’t figured these things out yet. So I don’t blame her for her actions, I empathize with them. I can relate to being young and stupid and not knowing how to interact with other people, especially when emotions are involved. But this militant defense that she acted perfectly and Robert is the villain of the story is, as you said, mad. If you’re truly empathetic you’ll see the tragedy in both characters.

  20. David December 11, 2017 at 10:06 am

    Arthur, you have explained a couple of things I was trying to say better than I did, so I’m just going to quote you:
    “At any one of these instances Margot could’ve said she wanted to go home and we have every reason to think Robert would have brought her home. He’s the one who brought it up repeatedly. This fear of assault or death is unwarranted.”
    Yes. This is a good explanation of what I was trying to say earlier, that Roupenian makes Margot’s fear of violence seems more paranoid than realistic. Not because fear of violence is generally unreasonable, but because the story is not well enough written to present it as reasonable for her in this situation.
    .
    “What’s frustrating is if Margot had cut it off when she wanted to, I have every reason to believe the rest of the story would not happen.”
    I agree, and so reading the story it felt rather pointless to me. The characters’ reactions and actions don’t make sense, but are there because whatever the author thinks she is trying to say with the story seems to require them to happen. Constructing a very awkward dating experience where the reader doesn’t wonder why they are going out (and, worse, does not wonder why we should care that they are going out) is more difficult than just throwing two people together. Roupenian didn’t get this right.
    .
    Harri, I, too, noticed the social media response to the story. “Cat Person” was trending on Twitter and someone even started an account called “Men React to Cat Person” (https://twitter.com/MenCatPerson). It has over 3000 followers. Many people commenting about the story on Twitter call it an “article”, as if it were a non-fiction report of a dating experience. That is a good indication that a lot of people, even ones who know this is fiction, are responding to it for the politics they see in it rather than as a work of fiction. It’s fine that people might enjoy reading the story because they think, “I had experiences like that”, but that isn’t really responding to it as a story. It might, however, be a good explanation of why The New Yorker chose to publish it. Publishing the story seems to have been very good for business for them.

  21. avataram December 11, 2017 at 10:24 am

    Cannot help comparing this to Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Gender Studies” published last year. Both stories had a few poorly written sentences, both were about women entering/exiting one night stands on their own terms. Maybe Sittenfeld’s character had good sex while Roupenian’s character had bad sex. Both stories flowed quite well and were readable, and both were judged unfit for a highbrow magazine like TNY in these comments.

    Both stories were topical. The first was published when Trump was running for President, the second when Roy Moore is running for Senator. Maybe Robert is not Roy-Moore-level creepy, but in the end, he turns out to be quite a nasty person.

    Was either story worth the deep analysis that Mookse commenters subject them to? Probably not. But that is the joy of reading these reviews and comments.

  22. Max Cairnduff December 11, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    Just a quick comment to say that I agree with frymax – Nicky’s nailed it.

    I do think there are moments where the story shows some sympathy for Robert, but as Nicky points out that comes from Margot’s perspective which is of course subjective – so it’s worth questioning whether that sympathy is justified. When you take a cold look at what he actually does in the story, well, there may be reasons why he is as he is but it’s not a pretty picture.

    Anyway, great analysis Nicky.

    I note that some say the story should explore why Robert is as he is or show his perspective on the situation, but I don’t particularly see why. It’s a story about Margot’s experience and emotions and that’s what’s interesting about it (or not if you don’t like it). There’s no obligation that it also be about Robert’s and if it attempted to cover both I think it would just become flabby (and besides, why shouldn’t a story just be from a female perspective? It’s not as if there’s any shortage of stories which are just from a male perspective.)

  23. Dennis Lang December 11, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    Also, very much enjoy the comments on this one. But personally I don’t read it as an indictment of Robert’s behavior or specifically the victimization of Margot. These are two characters largely opaque to each other, as most of us are in the formative stage of a relationship–and to me the ultimate strength in the narrative. Margot is reading Robert. Heck, he’s a cat person. He’s got to be okay. Robert, misogynist, chauvinist, boorish, call him what you want, relying on his personal experience, and expectations is clueless as to where Margot is coming from and what her needs might be. At a point he’s riddled with self-doubt, that he’s failing with her. Of course she’s equally clueless as to what he’s about. At the end he’s left in the lonely state he probably was in before this story began. Margot is socializing with friends. Just another failure of communication in an age when relationships unfold with strangers via cell phones?

  24. Brooklyn to NZ December 11, 2017 at 3:33 pm

    I’ve been looking at the increasing comment on this story – which many people refer to as an article – indicating the resonance and perhaps reflecting the style it’s written in. Even here in New Zealand people are tweeting! I So it’s interesting that so many people relate to the characters drawn by Roupenian even though we know so little about them (personally I’m glad it’s a short story as I don’t think I would have wanted to spend too much more time with them in my head).

    Obsession, lust and maybe love (or an idealised version of it) are the major motivators of many characters by many authors. I think Rouperian’s given us a glimpse of what’s going on in the mishmash of Margot’s hormonal storm – Robert is still a cypher – to us, to Margot and possibly to Roupenian. That so many people have experienced similar or worse encounters speaks to the human condition – at least of our time.

    My grandmother once gave e some advice about dating. Never go out with someone you meet in a place you wouldn’t go to again. Pretty hard to follow that advice today where most people meet ‘dates’ in a place they spend most of their time every day.

    Again, these are sketches and pretty unformed ones at that . As I mentioned before – like the pencil etchings in first version of The Joy of Sex – they leave a lot to the imagination – which is what a successful short story does. Maybe the only sure bottom line is that this has been a great business stimulator for The New Yorker.

  25. Dennis Lang December 11, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    Ah, but even pencil sketches as abstract as line drawings can be phenomenally realistic!
    Fun conversation!

  26. David December 12, 2017 at 1:58 am

    How famous has this story become? Well, famous enough that someone has already written a (lengthy) parody of it. Here is how it starts and a link to the whole thing….
    .
    Margot met Robert on a Wednesday night toward the end of her fall semester. Some called it ‘autumn’, but Margot called it fall, because she thought it was a good time to fall for someone. She often had thoughts like this, and wondered, did it mean she was a genius? She was working behind the concession stand at the artsy movie theatre downtown, trying to get the vomit out of the carpet and longing for the day they would let her work AT the concession stand, rather than being forced to stay in the shadows behind it. Robert walked up to the stand, his vast mass causing ripples in people’s water glasses and forcing small objects into orbit around his body.
    .
    http://meanjin.com.au/uncategorised/cat-person-republished-by-kind-permission-of-the-new-yorker/

  27. Sean H December 12, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    Recommended reading that might help explain the story and understand millennial & post-millennial malaise — Jean Twenge’s “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” from the Sep. 2017 issue of the Atlantic. Really eye-opening. Using smartphones (to date, and just in general) has lots of consequences, some good, most bad.
    And as this story has gotten some wider readership, I saw that Roupenian was interviewed by the NYTimes. Has she made any other public comments? Has anyone asked her if she’s ever seen or heard of Cat People?

  28. Brooklyn to NZ December 12, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    This is so bizarre – it’s not like she’s just ‘written her heart out”. seems SOME men – and I emphasise the some hopefully – clearly don’t like this story – don’t like to be laughed at – prefer to get away with murder (or some form of harassment) It’s a finely drawn piece of writing from someone who is interested in sexuality (from a number of ages according to her bio she’s a PhD candidate in Public Health at Harvard who speaks Swahili, writes about postcolonial and transnational literature and spent two years teaching public health and HIV education at an orphans’ centre in Uganda. We’ve – well some of us – have created the miasma the (some) millennials call home. Online dating, smartphones and the rest of the trappings of what passes for communication are big business, We can argue lots of points but its stick to the story. I don’t think the story is the deep really – but it sure is well written.

  29. avataram December 13, 2017 at 2:45 pm

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