I was really surprised by what I read — by how exciting, smart, perceptive, weird and dark this collection is ... You Know You Want This is probably best digested one or two stories at a time, but I kept getting lured into another and another just by Roupenian’s first sentences ... As varied as Roupenian’s stories are, they all clearly come from the same brain, one of those brains that feel out-of-this-world brilliant and also completely askew — like those of Karen Russell, George Saunders, Mary Gaitskill ... I’ll say here that I’m not usually a fan of the dark, creepy or supernatural. My imagination holds onto those things for too long; I can’t shake them. But the power of these stories transcends any one genre or element ... What’s special about 'Cat Person,' and the rest of the stories in You Know You Want This, is the author’s expert control of language, character, story — her ability to write stories that feel told, and yet so unpretentious and accessible that we think they must be true.
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.
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.
... evocative ... Roupenian deftly captures the #MeToo zeitgeist ... The remaining stories illustrate all manner of contemporary terrors. A standout is 'Look at Your Game, Girl,' an update of Joyce Carol Oates’ 1966 caution against talking to strangers 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?' Roupenian’s twisted imagination just may haunt your nightmares.
... wildly discomfiting ... Not every story in You Know You Want This is equally inspired [as 'Cat Person'], but even the ones that don’t quite land have a line or image worth savoring ... Roupenian’s language is often wonderfully, if grotesquely, physical ... This book isn’t bedtime reading. I found one of the stories so upsetting that I couldn’t bring myself to revisit it. Though I read much of the collection with admiration, I put it down wondering, in the end, where Roupenian’s madly misanthropic vision leads.
... sharp, powerful and uncomfortable ... This manoeuvre, which one might call empathy-shifting, is deployed by Roupenian often and elegantly throughout the collection ... In fact the tales often display an intriguing fluidity of genre. Stories that begin in a hyperreal vein can end up shading into fantasy. The real and the surreal co-exist; so too fairy-tale and horror. Roupenian’s clear, fluent, unintrusive prose is a sturdy foundation for flux and intricacy. We don’t feel yanked from mode to mode. She is always in narrative control.
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...
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 lurid jolts soon come to feel factitious and needy ... These rancid fantasies made my flesh crawl. And that was before I got to the story about a woman whose flesh crawls ... But where Gaitskill’s stories are transgressively adult, Roupenian’s are merely adolescent — often reading like entries from the journal of a 15-year-old boy who will go on to commit a high school massacre ... I had to muster all the strength I had to get through You Know You Want This, eventually alternating with Alan Bennett’s diaries so as not to lose faith in humanity. It isn’t all soulless and facile ... Roupenian is generally more engaging when she sticks to realism ... These stories feel rushed and dishonest at a time when we need fiction that scrutinises power rather than fetishises it. They are all spice and no flavour.
Obviously, sex doesn’t happen in a vacuum (that might be interesting); it’s often a way to discuss gender and power ... Kristen Roupenian’s debut short story collection, You Know You Want This, attempts to jump on this bandwagon and at the same time tip it over. She ends up driving it in a circle ... written in a smug tone that recalls a self-professed neurotic on a first date cheerfully outlining his adolescent traumas ... Reading ‘Cat Person’ alongside the other stories in You Know You Want This makes it difficult to see it the way many readers did initially, as a kind of feminist parable about the pressure to please ... in the collection, it’s often the hapless, infantilised, more or less well-intentioned men you feel sorry for ... The more speculative stories show most clearly how Roupenian uses sex and gruesomeness to deflect attention from her jazz-hand conclusions.
Kristen Roupenian's You Know You Want This: 'Cat Person' and Other Stories is a brutal, brilliant, biting, masterful debut short story collection that readers might think exists only as a forum for 'Cat Person' ... There are minor stories here, but none are weak ... Roupenian is completely in control of her vision from beginning to end. That's the bottom line with the dozen stories in You Know You Want This. Roupenian's confidence and willingness to follow through with the dark visions and sentimental longing in these 12 stories is enough to convince the reader that what follows will be equally surprising, dark, tender, and real.
The experience of reading the book itself takes on a meta aspect that is at once inescapable, interesting, and tedious. The stories...are weird, gross, and occasionally comic, the plots perverse and almost campy in their borrowings from horror. Although they vary significantly in setting, scenario, and even genre, they turn out to be surprisingly formulaic. A better title for this collection might have been 'Something Bad Is Going to Happen,' a realization you come to only a couple of stories in. Still, there’s a 1990s sensibility to some of the stories that I found perversely comforting, even though they are uniformly creepy ... I can well understand that for some reviewers, a Goosebumps-style aesthetic is not a selling point. But I found the stories mostly pleasurable. Roupenian is a funny writer, and comedy softens the ickiness of some of her premises, maybe to a fault ... I found You Know You Want This engaging but uneven.
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.
This is an enjoyable set of stories, often executed with flair. They’re fun. They’re just not what the fans of 'Cat Person' might be expecting ... This uneven collection certainly doesn’t live up to the hype. It’s not that zeitgeisty or cutting-edge. It’s apt to prove a momentary publishing sensation rather than an enduring classic ... Despite the absurdity of the undeserved hoopla, you still get the sense that she had a good time writing these tales, and I had a good time reading them.
Amid the noise, one certainty remained: 'Cat Person' is a good story ... Unfortunately, several of the stories here have the same intention as [the 'Cat Person' character] Robert’s final correspondence: they want to upset and disturb, at any price ... Roupenian is at her best when she discards shock tactics and levels her gaze at teenage sexuality ... This debut isn’t perfect, but I look forward to Roupenian’s next book and sincerely hope it’s spared the difficulty of being 'topical' and 'important'.
Here, Roupenian weaves a dozen compulsively readable stories of characters filled with perverse desires and motivations ... The stories are delightfully absorbing in their twisted cores ... There are moments, though, that tap into a kind of commentary that is clear and also feels new...
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.
... vivid, keenly observational and often highly uncomfortable tales ... Roupenian is skilled at forcing her readers to confront some painful truths, but her questions about life and society form a foundation for the wild situations in which her characters find themselves ... I’ll be the first to admit that not every story connected with me ... That said, I applaud her willingness to explore various genres, and cannot wait to see how she grows as a writer, as she is clearly off to a tremendous start.
At its best, what You Know You Want This contains are less stories of people than diagrams of power differentials at work in the mundane world around us, sketches delineating how desire unchecked can guide us into dark places. The stories that land... are realist but unapologetically flashy, aiming right for the throat. Too flashy, even. The dazzle makes them feel true, like a revelation from our own bone-deep knowledge of the world...
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.
'Bad Boy' — if readers survive its horror — is a fantastic story. No matter how despicable the scenario, Roupenian leaves questions unanswered and tempts the reader onward, a choice that few will be able to turn down ... While the writing of [some] stories maintains their quality, the structure falls flat. The endings jump away from the central plot they maintained for their first half, almost as though Roupenian ran out of ideas and scribbled in some gasp-worthy ending so that the middle stories matched the rest of the collection ... But between 'Cat Person' and the eight other sensations in You Know You Want This, the collection is easily forgivable for these lapses ... You Know You Want This navigates the desire to hurt and be hurt, the realm of lust, infatuation, harassment and, yes, the politics of being a mother of a pre-teen. And it is remarkable.
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.
Readers looking to You Know You Want This for further insights into 'sex, dating, and modern life' (as it says on the tin), however, may be disappointed to find that the majority of the stories involve a supernatural or macabre twist. When Roupenian stretches plausibility to provoke, as in the grisly denouement of the opening story, she loses her hold on our attention ... it is in rendering reality with fine brushstrokes, as in her depiction of the wavering line between attraction and repulsion in 'Cat Person,' that Roupenian is at her best ... some of the collection — the bulk of which was written before Roupenian stepped into the spotlight — may have benefited from more time to incubate ... when Roupenian remains rooted in realism, she gives pause by exposing the sinister side of sexuality, and one looks forward to seeing what she might accomplish with the novel form.
You Know You Want This is full of surprises ... The collection is bold, bizarre and defiant, like a lot of its central characters ... equal parts Brothers Grimm and The Human Centipede ... If all of this sounds completely insane, it is – but wonderfully, humorously so ... If you’re looking for more 'Cat Person'-esque commentary on relationships, You Know You Want This has its moments ... stylistic echoes of Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends ... Like Netflix’s You, it does a good job of making you secretly root for an obsessive, borderline dangerous loser of a guy you’d never want to admit you were rooting for ... vividly imagined ... a highly accomplished collection. It does also feel like there’s something in there for everyone – but it will inevitably end up being something you never knew you actually wanted.
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.
I absorbed the stories, marveling largely at their readability. I liked the book; I recommended the book to friends. Then, I sat down and read the book again, unable to shake the feeling that its readability—its few demands on me as a reader—was the only thing to recommend the collection of stories ... There are elements of the grotesque and the fantastical... but it’s an empty fantasy that, at times, lacks the substance to make the stories stick ... Perhaps because of the response [to 'Cat Person'], You Know You Want This, is a short story collection with tremendous expectations that doesn’t quite live up to its hype ... The trouble [with the book's style] is: shock is a limited resource and its effectiveness dwindles with each story.
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.