The Internet Is Obsessed With…a Short Story?

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Jessica Woodbury

Staff Writer

Jessica Woodbury's professional life has taken her to prisons, classrooms, strip clubs, and her living room couch. After years as a Public Defender in the South, she now lives in Boston with her two small children. Cursed with a practical streak, she always wanted to pursue music or writing but instead majored in Biochemistry because it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. These days she does absolutely nothing with science or law and instead spends too much time oversharing on the internet. She has a soft spot for crime novels and unreliable narrators. And the strip club gig was totally as a lawyer, she swears.  Blog: Don't Mind the Mess Twitter: jessicaesquire

2017 continues to surprise and astound, and who would have guessed that the internet would be falling over itself around a short story.

When was the last time the internet even read a short story? Does the internet know what a short story is? Has it read one since it was required for high school English?

Let’s cover this breaking story in more detail.

So wait, what’s happening?

The December 11th issue of the New Yorker features a short story called “Cat Person,” by Kristen Roupenian. Everyone is talking about it. By which I mean Twitter is talking about it.

What’s the story about?

It’s about a 20-year-old college student named Margot and this guy Robert who she becomes romantically involved with. It’s a third-person limited narrative focusing on Margot and her internal life.

That sounds like it has sex in it. The internet loves sex. Does it have sex in it?

Yes it does, but it’s not exactly the sexy kind of sex.

So why does the internet care so much?

Excellent question. I have a few theories.

Theory #1: The story is illustrated with a too-close-up image of lips kissing that comes up when you share the link on social media. It kind of makes you stop and go, “Eww, what?” I think it may act as some kind of tractor beam.

Theory #2: The internet loves cats and they expected something very different than what they got. Spoiler alert: cats are a minor plot point but that’s all. (Maybe this is not true of the internet as a whole, but it’s certainly true for a subset of the internet and they demand a cat-focused story as recompense.)

Theory #3: People don’t know it’s fiction. This is actually becoming kind of a problem. Because Margot’s story sounds similar to the kind of thing you’d see in a confessional personal essay, people’s initial reaction to it is to have a hot take just like they would if it was a nonfiction piece. Even if you do know that it’s fiction, you may react to it as if it were real. Who is Margot, is Margot a feminist, why didn’t Margot do a different thing? Margot isn’t real and the author has confirmed that the story is not autobiographical.

So what are all the hot takes?

Many women pronounce it too real. (I admit, I am one of them.) It taps very deeply into experiences many women have had where we look for ways to explain away men’s bad behavior as signs that they are really good, ways women construct narratives around people they date, etc. It’s also limited to the perspective of a young woman who is probably white, well-off, and attractive. So it may be relate-able, but it’s not universal.

There are some complaints. Many have noted it’s fatphobic. (Margot has several critical and judgmental thoughts about Robert’s body.) This is pretty legit and it probably deserves a content warning for readers who don’t want to encounter fat shaming language. Margot is also pretty shallow about bodies generally, and it’s generating discussion about how women are conditioned to think of themselves and others.

People also feel the need to say they do not like it. Because the internet hates it when people like things and everyone who doesn’t like the thing feels the need to speak up and let everyone know that they definitely did not like the thing.

How is the actual story?

Don’t ask me. That’s up to you. I liked it, I liked the pacing and the point of view and the way we get to see clearly Margot’s flaws and her youth and her bad decisions. I found the ending too obvious.

While reading the story I was reminded of reading Difficult Women earlier this year and how I saw stories in it about women and love and sex that I had never seen before. Short stories about men obsessing about women are revered as classics, but stories from the point of view of a woman that feature love, lust, and sex still feel painfully new. I like that we get to do that for a little while.

I love short stories, but I hate hot takes. Should I read it?

This is Book Riot and we are pretty pro-reading-things, so if you like stories, yes. Read it.

You are welcome to read it and then not read any of the hot takes. In fact, you can read it and you don’t even have to tell anyone you read it. You can read it and then carry the knowledge that you read it to your grave with you.

But the internet really needs my particular hot take, which I promise is not at all similar to any of the million hot takes generated thus far.

I mean, if it means that much to you, go ahead and have your take.

Is this going to change the landscape of short stories as we know it?

That remains to be seen. I would love to see us talk more about short stories the way we talk about novels and movies and other things we love to dissect online. Maybe the hot takes are not so bad. Maybe serious conversation about short fiction is exactly what we need right now.

If you’re looking for more short stories about women, I’d recommend Difficult Women by Roxane Gay, Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, and Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin (available for pre-order).