Friday, January 11, 2019

High and melancholy and just a little off-key

"Are you ready?" he asked.

"No," she said. "I told you, I don't want to listen to your stupid tape."

"Yes, you do," he said. "You just don't know it yet." He reached up and slid the headphones over her ears. She could smell his body odor, a mix of cigarette smoke and sweat and sour breath. She was about to snatch the headphones off when she heard a dusty crackling, like the static at the start of a record, and then a man singing, accompanied by rough strokes of acoustic guitar. His voice was high and melancholy and just a little off-key. It reminded her of the way she's felt after she'd drunk the vodka, as though an entire planet were pressing on top of her, holding her down.
— from "Look at Your Game, Girl," in You Know You Want This, by Kristen Roupenian.

Did you read "Cat Person" last year? Go read it now, and be horrified by the prospect of online dating and the impossibility of knowing someone via text.

Since reading this collection over the holiday, several of these stories have faded from my memory already. But some of them are standouts. That includes the now renowned "Cat Person." I would put "Look at Your Game, Girl," and "The Good Guy" in the same of category, maybe "Bad Boy." Insightful, uncomfortable, effective.

I think Roupenian is at her best when exploring sexual dynamics, the mysterious gaps between people. She exploits the uncertainty between people, the failure of trust. You know you want it, but do you know what it is you want so bad? That thing you want — it's dark, aggressive, transgressive.

Other stories border on weird horror, had supernatural elements. Those stories are weaker in my view. Possibly because the space between natural and supernatural elements is so much wider than the chasm between men and women; the tension is not so tightly contained.

Stories online
Cat Person
Bad Boy
The Good Guy (on Medium, members only, but you may be allowed a free article)
The Night Runner (I didn't much like this one)
Don’t Be Scarred (an earlier version of "Scarred," which I liked at first, but then it felt too obvious; I kept waiting for the twist, but the twist was too obvious)

Boston Globe
The New Republic

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