Turns out there’s more where ['Cat Person'] came from, and it makes delicious reading. Roupenian’s You Know You Want This is a scintillating new debut collection, with a glorious revenge comedy at its center ... the book shows an impressive range ... 'Cat Person' was our tip-off to pay attention to what Roupenian did next. Now that it’s here, well, you know you want it.
Pedophilia, necrophilia, child abduction, child murder, mass murder—go down the menu of fears and outré fantasies; they’re all here. And for what? This is a dull, needy book. The desire to seem shocking—as opposed to a curiosity about thresholds physical and ethical—tends to produce provocation of a very plaintive sort ... With Roupenian, there is just the giddiness of her imagination, of what she can get away with ... characters remain their pathologies; the curtain falls on them before we can ever ask: Now what? There’s none of the simmer of 'Cat Person' or its attention to language in the rest of these stories. Roupenian will work a metaphor until it screams.
In the twelve stories in Roupenian’s debut, You Know You Want This: 'Cat Person' and Other Stories, she establishes herself as a raucous and bloodthirsty storyteller who, even when she stumbles, never bores ... That’s not to say the stories are cookie-cutter, but that they each take a different angle on this particular model of human affairs. Actually, one of the book’s strengths is how diverse its styles and genres are, as it twists the formula of weak versus strong ... Although You Know You Want This may be timely in its occasional adjacency to #MeToo, its real canniness comes from apprehending the psychology not only of power, but of power-hunger as, itself, a form of weakness...
Roupenian's debut collection, You Know You Want This, demonstrates that her work is special. You Know You Want This is very good. For many readers, it may prove deceptive as well ... Roupenian's stories are extremely easy to read. She's worked out a way to write short stories that have no stopping points. They build steadily and discursively, and even the stories that jump years or decades seem to happen all in one breath ... [Roupenian] took risks on every level. There are genre switches, shock endings, even a fairy tale. There's plenty of superficially risky sexual content: submission, humiliation, knives. The collection's truest risk, though, is its directness ... This is blunt, fun, evocative writing.
Recent MFA graduate Kristen Roupenian’s You Know You Want This seems like [an MFA thesis] ... I felt absolutely enraged by [the book's] weaknesses. It does nobody any good, least of all the author, to pretend that the other stories in this collection are anywhere near as noteworthy or polished as 'Cat Person.' They are student work, and they trumpet their influences baldly ... Roupenian is great with those grisly, gory details; she writes them with wit and humor and glee ... Horror is great, ambiguity is fine, but they both need to be deployed in the service of something besides themselves.
The collection, which abounds in macabre scenarios and sadomasochistic themes, will cause many of those who saw themselves in 'Cat Person' to recoil ... The S&M element in some of the stories here...will remind many readers of the early work of Mary Gaitskill... But unlike Gaitskill, Roupenian seems to be reaching, flaunting her edge, eyeing her readers and hoping to see them gasp or wince. Even Gaitskill’s most unsettling stories aren’t performative in that way. They feel like the work of an intelligence wholly devoted to telling the truth, to the titanic task of doing justice to human beings as she sees them, without artifice or mystification ... Roupenian has a gift for locating the monstrous in the mundane; she doesn’t need to head out into the wilds to find it.
While the book can be engaging and deliciously creepy at times, it’s also schematic in its diagnosis of human nature in the way that so many social media debates tend to be ... The unflinching depictions of physical cruelty as a reflection of the psychological harm we are willing to carry out on others is one of the collection’s greatest strengths ... These stories may leave readers squirming, sometimes with tension, often with revulsion, and Roupenian is extremely skilled at escalating the stakes ... The oversimplification of victim and victimizer in the other stories, though, is more tiring ... Roupenian eschews any sort of moral complexity by spelling out every problematic and downright creepy thought in the antagonists’ heads ... What we get, time and again, are more predictable outcomes, usually tainted with a degree of shock value, so readers can be absolved of any upsetting ambiguity by clearly knowing who deserved what and who is left to tend to their wounds. Roupenian raises difficult questions. One wishes her answers were just as challenging.
... a catalog of brutal truths and bad behavior that peels back the thin veneer of human sociability like so much cracked linoleum off an old bathroom floor ... While occasional swerves into a kind of nightmarish magical realism can feel less than fully realized, it’s the stories told in the viscerally intuitive vein of 'Cat Person' that linger; pithy, raw-nerved explorations of shame and desire and monumental self-loathing ... You Know You Want This is a spiky, ruthless little book, as confrontational and ugly-honest as its title.
I liked 'Cat Person' when it came out, but I found myself resisting You Know You Want This ... the back-and-forth dynamic Roupenian finds so fascinating rarely acquires a third dimension... the stories’ vagueness ultimately struck me as less a feature than an unintentional bug, like the author wasn’t sure what to invent to fill these gaps and so convinced herself filling them wasn’t necessary ... Too many characters—the red-lipstick-wearing Brooklynite of 'The Matchbox Sign,' the greedy narrator of 'Scarred,' whose predominant characteristic seems to be 'sociopath'—are like dolls dropped into a predetermined plot. I found this naked utility wearying rather than intriguing, though it should make for decent TV, where such gaps can be padded with facial expressions and music and sets ... Roupenian seems to favor a prompt of 'what if?' And that certainly yields action. I wish she had sometimes asked why as well.
Does [the book] live up to 'Cat Person'? Not quite. You Know You Want This is not a great book. It’s uneven, and it wants to shock more than it succeeds in shocking. But it’s never boring — and it reeks of potential ... When Roupenian leans into her ability to explore and explode modern archetypes like this, she’s a breathtakingly exhilarating force. But for most of You Know You Want This, Roupenian is not leaning into that ability. Instead, she seems to be experimenting, like a dutiful student ... Roupenian would have benefited from some time out of the spotlight to grow as a writer before she was catapulted into the center of the literary conversation. Still, when You Know You Want This is good, it is very, very good.
There’s little value in making a reader’s discomfort the sole point of a piece of fiction, yet most of the works that surround 'Cat Person' don’t seem to go much further. Particularly appealing to Roupenian is the shock value in foregrounding female antagonists ... How could such gruesome tales manage to be so tedious? ... Roupenian doesn’t have a responsibility to sort it all out for us; but in her binary explorations of abuse, she’s missed an opportunity to capture the gray areas.
Roupenian has an ear for dialogue and a knack for satire, and she often tips her characters into dark fantasy worlds and even-stranger realities to get at their ultimate truths ... Curious readers will be rewarded.
Although she often seems to be aiming for Bad Behavior-era Mary Gaitskill, Roupenian at her most gross-out reminded me more of the grisly provocations of Chuck Palahniuk. Cruelty and macabre can be thrilling in moderation, but Roupenian often lays them on so thick that they risk flattening her characters into one-dimensional cartoons. Roupenian, though, does has a gift for propulsion and pacing: Even in the times when this book disgusted or infuriated me, I couldn’t put it down.
Roupenian’s debut story collection, You Know You Want This, mines the same territory as 'Cat Person' — relationships are corrosive — but the nuanced insight of her breakout effort is largely absent, replaced by a reliance on violence to hammer home easy points ... These stories feel unpolished, almost rushed, and their dependence on brutality again and again evokes clickbait more than literature.
You Know You Want This at once enchants and horrifies. Ms Roupenian’s occasional supernatural touches can be distracting, but at its best her writing recalls the gloomy feminist fairy-tales of Angela Carter. This collection cements her reputation as one of the most startling new voices in fiction.
Some of the stories are drawn, with startling and nauseating detail, from life; others veer toward magical realism or nightmares. All of them, though, are united by Roupenian’s voice, which is unsparing and unpretentious and arrestingly straightforward, so that it feels, at times, less like you are reading and more like she is simply thinking for you ... Unsettling, memorable, and—maybe perversely—very, very fun.