You Know You Want This: Kristen Roupenian
Genre: Fiction (short story/chick lit/general)
Hogwarts House Recommendations: Gryffindor, Slytherin, perhaps a touch of Ravenclaw?
I’m going to abandon the usual format today and first just tell you about each story individually. The premise is that these twelve stories explore the power and desires between men and women, plus the effects these ideas can have on our lives.
Bad Boy: Two women (at least I took them to be women, I don’t know why I can’t remember suddenly) let their friend stay with them over a bad breakup but begin to dislike his interactions with his ex-girlfriend and punish him for it. This is a short powerful story with a shocking twist that will get you thinking about how woman can do bad things, too. A little explicit for me but an interesting dark tale. 4 stars
Look at Your Game, Girl A twelve-year-old girl bonds with an older guy over music in the park but questions his motives when he asks her to meet at midnight. Could it be the serial killer everyone is talking about? I liked this one, though the ending fell a bit flat as nothing really happens. The twelve-year-olds act eighteen most of the time as well, so that took away from the shock of the age gap somewhat. 4.5 stars
Sardines A ten-year-old wants one thing for her birthday party: to play Sardines with her friends. Then she makes a birthday wish that takes the game to more sinister levels, particularly for her mother who is dreading seeing her ex-husband’s girlfriend at the party. I wanted to like this idea; young kids can often do terrible things. Unfortunately, it got too bizarre too quickly and it made the story lose a lot of credibility. If a short story is this kind of magical realism it needs to establish that aspect just a little earlier. I was worried the ending would be predictable, but honestly, I would have preferred the one I had in mind. Finally, it seems to keep hinting at suspense that never seems to happen. Reading the last page again, I can kind of see the point, but….eh, it still doesn’t do it for me. 2 stars
The Night Runner A Peace Corps volunteer teaching at a school in Kenya struggles with a badly behaved class, but things escalate when a so-called night runner disturbs him all night and leaves fecal matter outside the doorstep. This story was…fine. Nothing great, not bad, and I thought this ending was definitely predictable. 3 stars
The Mirror, the Bucket, and the Old Thigh Bone A princess is being asked to choose a suitor to marry but can’t quite find what she’s looking for until a stranger appears in her bedchamber. But the stranger isn’t quite what they seem, and although the princess does marry a duke, will it be enough to satisfy her? This is a tale worthy of further reading and exploration, as well as a warning against vanity. One of its great strengths is the way it reads like a fairy tale, and I wonder if younger readers who don’t mind darker tones wouldn’t like this as well. You don’t see that often these days. I personally would have loved to dissect this one in my college fairy tale course. Alas, it wasn’t published yet. 5 stars
Cat Person Supposedly the story that launched Roupenian’s career, Cat Person is the story of a college girl getting with an older man. And, well, that’s pretty much it. It showcases the struggles of a young woman struggling with what she wants verses her expectations, and the guy’s thoughts take a turn as well. There’s not much to it, and it surprised me that this was the one that took off. (The book jacket suggests that content and timing played a role. Maybe a #MeToo type of thing?) It showcases the scenarios quite well, but not a standout for me personally. Maybe it needs to be read some more. 3 stars
The Good Guy If you’re confused about the “good guy” concept, this story might explain it to you. It follows a guy named Ted and shows us flashbacks of his romantic life…his pining for one girl while getting into relationship with another. To preserve his reputation, he neglects to break up with the girl he doesn’t like while yearning for the other. What follows is a string of heartbreak for everyone. This was pretty well done, and aside from some more explicit sex scenes which weren’t for me (but not altogether distasteful; at least they were important for the narrative) I recommend it. 4.5 stars
The Boy in the Pool At a young age, three girls fall in love with a young hunky movie star in a corny horror porn film (though nothing about this story is really that explicit). Years later at one of their bachelorette parties, another friend of theirs pulls out all the stops by inviting him there. Again, I liked the concept of women meeting a childhood crush, but the story falls flat in that it goes nowhere. It just ends. There is some potential in that the organizer and the bride-to-be have fallen out of touch while the third member has not, but this isn’t really explored either. This was a missed opportunity in my mind. 3 stars
Scarred One woman checks out a book of spells and conjures a man in her basement. She is hoping for her heart’s desire, and occasionally requires the man in her spell casting.This is one of the more disturbing tales, as even as she believes they will spend their lives together, she may have misunderstood what the spellbook was trying to get at. Ladies and gentlemen: beware of sketchy witchcraft. I certainly wouldn’t do it myself, but the story has a strong point that’s not to be missed. 5 stars
The Matchbox Sign David tries as best he can to support his wife Laura as she has an unexplainable itch that is taking over her life. With subtle commentary on believing women, this story has more of a message that the surface might indicate. This story doesn’t sound great, but the ending will ruin you. 4 stars
Death Wish A young man looking around on Tinder invites a new find to his hotel room, who asks him to punch her and then kick her for her fantasy. The narrator grapples what to do with it, which is an interesting thought process. Again, though, the story doesn’t really go anywhere. 3 stars
Biter Ellie fantasizes about biting her new coworker. She hasn’t bitten since preschool, but wonders if this time she can get away with it. I don’t know why I like this one, or why I think it’s funny, cute, and weird all at the same time. It also leaves open whether or not Ellie is the good person in this gender war or not, which was interesting. And a satisfying ending to boot. 5 stars
Side note: I claim to not like sexual stories, so as you can imagine I was kicking myself as soon as I started this book and wondered if I would DNF. Not that it was the book’s fault this time around; there are hints of it in the summary and reviews. It actually wasn’t as sexual as I’d imagined it to be; in fact, probably less so than the novels I read or tried to read earlier in 2019. The Good Guy definitely had most of it, and a bit in Cat Person, Death Wish, and of course in Bad Boy, but at least there was a purpose and it wasn’t always all-out, unnecessarily pornographic like in Obsession or The Kiss Quotient. I also assumed that there would be a considerable amount of feminist undertones, considering the title and nature of the stories. There are, but not to the extent I thought. Believing women and sexual assault are themes that appear briefly, though I wasn’t sure if I was imagining them at times.
Now as for the stories, there were some I loved and some, not so much. I only really was disappointed with Sardines, while others were more “meh.” The endings were super hit-or-miss, which was strange. Stories either went nowhere, took a nonsensical turn for shock value, or really hit me hard or were just plain satisfying, like the final story. And that helped some of them along. It’s really hard to rate for those reasons. I think this number makes sense, but take it with a grain of salt. You may also like some stories better than others for their meanings. Either way, I’m glad to see more short stories and would love to see more in mainstream production, either by this author or someone else. They are a great way to showcase life as it is, and as such they often do a good job.