You Know You Want This

"Cat Person" and Other Stories

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About The Book

From the author of “Cat Person”—“the short story that launched a thousand theories” (The Guardian)—comes Kristen Roupenian's highly anticipated debut, a compulsively readable collection of short stories that explore the complex—and often darkly funny—connections between gender, sex, and power across genres.

You Know You Want This brilliantly explores the ways in which women are horrifying as much as it captures the horrors that are done to them. Among its pages are a couple who becomes obsessed with their friend hearing them have sex, then seeing them have sex…until they can’t have sex without him; a ten-year-old whose birthday party takes a sinister turn when she wishes for “something mean”; a woman who finds a book of spells half hidden at the library and summons her heart’s desire: a nameless, naked man; and a self-proclaimed “biter” who dreams of sneaking up behind and sinking her teeth into a green-eyed, long-haired, pink-cheeked coworker.

Spanning a range of genres and topics—from the mundane to the murderous and supernatural—these are stories about sex and punishment, guilt and anger, the pleasure and terror of inflicting and experiencing pain. These stories fascinate and repel, revolt and arouse, scare and delight in equal measure. And, as a collection, they point a finger at you, daring you to feel uncomfortable—or worse, understood—as if to say, “You want this, right? You know you want this.”

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for You Know You Want This includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book

Introduction

Kristen Roupenian's highly anticipated debut is a compulsively readable collection of short stories that explore the complex—and often darkly funny—connections between gender, sex, and power.

You Know You Want This brilliantly examines the ways in which women can be horrifying as much as it captures the horrors that are done to them. Spanning a range of genres and topics—from the mundane to the murderous and supernatural—these are stories about sex and punishment, guilt and anger, the pleasure and terror of inflicting and experiencing pain. These stories fascinate and repel, revolt and arouse, scare and delight in equal measure. And, as a collection, they point a finger at you, daring you to feel uncomfortable—or worse, understood—as if to say, “You want this, right? You know you want this.”

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. Why do you think Roupenian choose to title her short story collection You Know You Want This? How does the book’s title help to frame the concept of desire within? What are some of the things that the characters want? How are those desires handled?

2. In “The Boy in the Pool,” Kath is able to track down the film that she, Taylor, and Lizzie were obsessed with as girls once he remembers the quote from it that Taylor write in her notebook: “Love breeds monsters” (pg. XXX). Why do you think Taylor was so enamored of this quote? Can you think of examples in You Know You Want This where the characters do monstrous things in the service of “love”? What are they?

3. Ellie “wanted to bite [Corey Allen], and the fact that she couldn’t made her mad. Yes, sometimes, you wanted something and couldn’t have it. But it was also true that sometimes people knew what they wanted was unethical, but they went ahead and did it anyway” (pg. XXX). The very nature of desire is a running conceit through You Know You Want This. How is Roupernian using the characters in her stories to comment on desire? Why do you think certain desires seen as transgressive by the characters while others are socially acceptable?

4. When Kezia discusses the bad behavior of her daughter and her friends, she calls them “those . . . sluts” (pg. XXX) and Robert calls Margot “Whore” (pg. XXX) in a text exchange. What’s the effect of the name calling? Did hearing Kezia use it in reference to the “incident” color your ideas of what the unnamed event was? If so, how?

5. When the narrator of “Scarred” discovers that her spell has worked, her initial reaction is one of “giddy, mounting joy. . . . I knew it, I thought. I knew the world was more interesting than it was pretending to be” (pg. xxx). How would you react if you were in her situation? The narrator says that she tries one of the spells “Not because I believed it would bring me my heart’s desire—I wasn’t even sure I had one of those” (pg. XXX). Why does she try the spell? Do you think that she got her heart’s desire in the end? Why or why not? What do you think her heart’s desire was?

6. In “The Matchbox Sign,” David and Laura’s “fight begins, of all things, with a spreadsheet” (pg. 252). What are the two of them fighting about? What is the spreadsheet problematic to Laura? How does it highlight the power dynamic in their relationship? Does that power dynamic shift? If so, how? Can you think of any other relationships in You Know You Want This that have shifting power dynamics? Describe them.

7. In “Cat Person,” Margo tells Tamara that Robert is “a nice guy, sort of” (pg. XXX). Similarly “The Good Guy” concludes with Ted proclaiming, “Listen to me, will you—I’m a nice guy, I swear to fucking God” (pg. XXX). What did you think of Robert and Ted? Did you think they were “nice”? Discuss the nice guy trope that Roupenian addresses in her stories. What does it mean to be “nice”? How does Ted use the perception that he is a “nice” guy to his benefit?

8. When the King discovers that he has fallen in love with the Queen in “The Mirror, the Bucket, and the Old Thigh Bone,” the discovery “complicated their relationship, as it meant that he could no longer ignore the fact that she was very, very sad” (pg. XXX). Describe the actions he takes as a result. What do you think of his decision to do so? Are there any other relationships in You Know You Want This that are complicated by the idea of romantic love? Which ones and why?

9. The narrator of “Death Wish” proclaims that “I knew I wasn’t in any state to have a relationship, and I wasn’t trying to inflict myself on anybody long-term. I had that much self-awareness at least” (pg. XXX). Do you think he is as self-aware as he claims? Why or why not? What does his encounter with his Tinder match make him realize about himself? Were you surprised that he went along with her request?

10. Games appear throughout the stories in You Know You Want This. Ellie invents a game called Opportunity that she plays with herself, and Tilly and her friends invent a game called Sardines. Describe the rules of both of the games. What is it about the games that appeals to the characters that play them? Can you think of any other games—real or metaphorical—that the characters play?

11. The couple in “Bad Boy” begin to see their friend as “some slippery thing we had caught in our fist, and the harder we squeezed the more of it bubbled up through our fingers. We were chasing something inside of him that revolted us, but we were driven mad as dogs by the scent” (pg. 17). Explain the sentiment. How are revulsion and desire companion emotions? Why do you think the friend goes along with the couple and their requests? What does each member of the group gain by their interactions?

12. Discuss the opening paragraph of “Look at Your Game, Girl.” What’s the effect of reading about murders, kidnappings, and suicides while being introduced to Jessica? Why does the narrator choose to include all of the context?

13. In “Sardines,” the day of Tilly’s birthday, “Marla’s survival plan . . . involves pretending that The Girlfriend doesn’t entirely exist” (pg. XXX) Are any of the other characters in You Know You Want This engaged in plans for survival? Which ones? What are their strategies and how successful are they?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. When “Cat Person” was published in The New Yorker, the story went viral. Read some of the coverage, including The Guardian article that refers to the it as “the short story that launched a thousand theories,” and discuss the coverage with your book club. Why do you think “Cat Person” struck such a nerve? Did you think, as Vox suggests, that “Cat Person” captured what it is like to be a woman dating in her 20s? Read the article here: https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/12/12/16762062/cat-person-explained-new-yorker-kristen-roupenian-short-story

2. Both “The Mirror, the Bucket, and the Old Thigh Bone” and “Scarred” are marked by fantastical elements and read like modern fairytales. Read other fairytales, particularly those of Hans Christian Anderson. Do you see any similarities between older fairytales and those in You Know You Want This? What are they?

3. You Know You Want This begins with an epigraph taken from Lara Glenum’s poem Pulchritude. Read the poem and discuss it with your book club. Why do you think Roupenian chose to use it as the epigraph? Did the epigraph influence your interpretation of the stories? Were there any particular themes you were looking for as a result?

4. To learn more about Kristen Roupenian, share your thoughts with her, and find out what she’s up to, follow her on twitter (https://twitter.com/kroupenian).

About The Author

Kristen Roupenian graduated from Barnard College and holds a PhD in English from Harvard, as well as an MFA from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. She is the author of the short story, “Cat Person,” which was published in The New Yorker and selected by Sheila Heti for The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2018. She is currently at work on a novel.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press (January 2019)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982101633

Raves and Reviews

"It's unheard of for a short story to go viral, but 'Cat Person'—through a combination of impossibly sharp writing and impossibly good timing—had done it. A year later, Roupenian's debut collection proves that success wasn't a fluke. The 12 visceral stories here range from uncomfortable to truly horrifying and are often—though not always—focused on the vicious contradictions of being female… Unsettling, memorable, and—maybe perversely—very, very fun." 
Kirkus Reviews, starred review 

“If you think you know what this collection will be like, you’re wrong. These stories are sharp and perverse, dark and bizarre, unrelenting and utterly bananas. I love them so, so much.”
—Carmen Maria Machado, National Book Award Finalist and author of Her Body and Other Parties

"The stories in You Know You Want This are wildly strange and deeply human. When it comes to the secret hurt and twisted desires that lurk in seemingly mundane encounters between men and women, Kristen Roupenian is a super genius. I loved every single word of this freaky, fantastic book."
Julie Buntin, author of Marlena

“In an age that needs a wrecking ball You Know You Want This provides one. This is a raucous, visceral page-turner that tunnels into the heart of relationships gone awry, modern-day miscommunications, and other horrors of being human. Not polite. Suffers no fools. Takes no prisoners. Read it.”
Jeff VanderMeer, New York Times bestselling author of Annihilation

"These transgressive and darkly electric stories announce the arrival of a bold, new, necessary voice in American short fiction."
Claire Vaye Watkins, Story Prize-winning “5 Under 35” author of Gold Fame Citrus and Battleborn

"Exceptionally compelling; I love the way these stories create a world that is simultaneously familiar and deeply unsettling, showing—in strange and surprising ways—the interplay of disgust, fear and desire. Images from the book keep coming back to me: its narratives feel both mythical and completely modern." 
—Megan Hunter, author of The End We Start From

"Roupenian’s solid debut is highlighted by moments of startling insight into the hidden—and often uncomfortable—truths underneath modern relationships… there are some stellar moments of pithy clarity: In 'Scarred,' upon summoning a way to cheat desire, the protagonist muses, ‘I had everything that could be wanted. I invented new needs just to satisfy.’ This is a promising debut."
Publishers Weekly

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