You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian

A review of the short story collection You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian.

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You Know You Want This is the first short story collection by Kristen Roupenian. Her short story, Cat Person, went viral in 2017, causing an internet sensation and opening an ongoing debate about consent, sex, and communication.

You Know You Want This continues the daring attitude and humour of Cat Person (which is included in this collection). The stories are varied in content and idea, but are all razor-sharp, witty, insightful and bold. There is the story of a game of Sardines used to exact a vengeance both horrific and grotesque, but which you can still convince yourself is justified. The story of a nameless couple dealing with their friend’s hopeless romantic life that gets darker and more twisted and more layered with each paragraph.

Some short story collections are linked by a theme, but although there isn’t an obvious key word here, the collection still feels very cohesive. The writing is consistently witty and observational, although the stories range from weird sexual encounters in seedy hotel rooms to eldritch horrors lurking at the bottom of the woods, these disparate elements feel part of a bigger conversation rather than random components. Roupenian’s characters are always searching for something, either trying to reclaim something from their past, or scrabbling for something new that will fix their future. The title is a sly insight here—you know you want this—because while all the characters want something, they often have to be cajoled or convinced or browbeaten into accepting their desires. Sometimes that is because their desires are strange or antisocial or illegal. It’s a question of reconciling this strange animal id with the respectable human narrating their story, knowing that their wants are odd but unable to let go without losing a piece of themselves.

For me, Cat Person was the gateway into Roupenian’s writing, but this collection is not to be missed. It is one of the best books I’ve read this year, I can’t remember another collection that impressed me as much with its skill, audacity and style.

Alice Olivia Scarlett is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Thanet with the seagulls and parakeets.

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