Introduction Els Quaegebeur to Kristen Roupenian

 

I read Kristen Roupenian’s Cat Person for the first time in the same week I got asked twice how many #metoo experiences I had had in my life. How many, not if I had had any. I read it for the second time because somebody – a former US correspondent journalist whom I have known for a hundred years – sent it to me, with the words: “This is going to be huge. And, by the way, was I ever this oblivious?” The next day I read it yet again because my first boyfriend, who is now gay, sent it to me, with the words: “I think you’ll like this story.”

I did like it. A lot. Still do. And it did become huge. In fact, it was the second best read New Yorker piece of 2017, which is a tremendous accomplishment, especially for a young writer who just finished an MFA program for creative writing.

Personally I don’t think it is a controversial story. It makes perfect, honest, naked sense to me, but it did provoke [a] controversy. Or as they say: Cat Person went viral. Hundreds of thousands of people all over the world felt the urge to come forward with their opinion, jubilant or trashing; the grey field was, as often happens in the middle of a hype, scarcely entered.

People took Cat Person personally and made it personal, by shoving Kristen herself in the image of Margo, the main female character, like she just went online with a shocking piece of her diary about an unpleasant sexual encounter – as many people were in fact doing at the time.

That said, her story would also have made an impact without #metoo. Cat Person comes really close, not for everyone in the most agreeable way. It reminds us of our eagerness to please and be pleased, about how we deal with rejection – back and forth, about voluntary sex which turns out to be also shitty, plain, cliché, hideous, painful or all of the above. Sex which might make you wonder: how in the world could that be voluntary? And maybe, just maybe, for some it is easier to swallow all that self-confrontation when they make themselves believe that Kristen is Margot.

I never thought about the question mark of autobiography while reading Cat Person. Like with any story of remarkable quality, I got sucked into it and only thought about who wrote it after I finished it. Way after. And even then I never asked myself whether Margo was Kristen or her sister or her best friend. But now that I do think about it, I think it might actually be a compliment. Margot comes across as a real person, funny too by the way, and she is the centerpiece in a story of which we can say: easy reading is hard writing. It’s a piece of work, in a good way.

I did think about Kristen, following the wave of uninvited commentary, about how that must have changed her life. It did of course change things for her. There is no way around it, with a seven-figure book deal, an HBO series adapting You Know You Want This and reviews in the world’s most important newspapers which would otherwise not have paid much attention to the umpteenth short story collection of a recently graduated MFA student. But Kristen is still that young writer. I am very curious to hear more about her and her writing.