Cat Person: The New Yorker's viral story that explains #MeToo
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Cat Person: The New Yorker’s viral story that explains #MeToo

Written by Phoebe Luckhurst

On Saturday, The New Yorker uploaded a short story to its website. Cat Person was 36-year-old Kristen Roupenian’s first piece for the American magazine and, according to The New Yorker, in three days the newcomer’s story had become the magazine’s most-read piece of fiction this year. Cat Person had gone viral: on Monday morning it was trending on Twitter, choking Facebook newsfeeds, and whizzing through the ether by email. Roupenian had fewer than 200 Twitter followers before it was published; she now has almost 6,000. Analogue communication kept pace: in offices across the capital readers unpicked the story.

Cat Person is — in Roupenian’s words — an “excruciatingly bad date story” about a younger woman and a younger man: a meet cute gone wrong. Margot, a 20-year-old college sophomore works in the local “artsy movie theatre”; 34-year old Robert is a customer. She flirts with him, mainly as distraction and to get tips, but he comes back the next week, demands her number, and the pair start texting.

There is the familiar technological two-step: a back and forth of messaging that sometimes hurtles forward and sometimes crawls. Margot must always reinitiate when it stalls.

Their first “date” is unceremonious: he buys her snacks at a 7-Eleven. But she is smitten, and when she goes home for the holidays, the texting escalates. His two cats become a silly trope of their flirting. When she gets back to campus, they arrange a date to the cinema. But on the night their conversation lacks the fluency of the virtual badinage, and she hates the film, a Holocaust movie that she suspects he has selected to impress her. Indeed, it looks like it will be an abortive evening — until she suggests a drink to round it off. Three drinks later and they kiss, and then they are at his house.

The sex makes you squirm. Margot finds him unattractive, the situation embarrassing and is reluctant to continue what has started. She does it, but after a post-coital film she makes her excuses and returns to campus.

The next day she agonises about how to phrase the let-down text until she lets her exasperated roommate send a rude, definitive message; in response he sends a plaintively manipulative one — and Margot dines out on the story.

This is how it ends. Except it doesn’t — because Robert turns up in the student bar she’s in one evening and sends her a series of texts, aggression rising in each one. His last word is unambiguous: “Whore.”

In a post-#MeToo world it is clear why Cat Person resonates. On social media women used recurring words: “familiar”, “relatable”, “recognisable”. There was something in the confessional solidarity that felt #MeToo. The call to arms from woman to woman gave a sense that it was required reading for an ascendant movement. “I enjoyed Cat Person in the way that it made me feel sick because there are so many completely universally accurate moments it touches on,” said a 28-year-old Londoner.

“I anticipated that people would respond to the story, but this level of response has gone beyond what I’ve seen with fiction before,” The New Yorker’s fiction editor Deborah Treisman, who commissioned the story, said. “Any time that fiction is the most-read piece on our website for days, something unusual is happening.” [Read More at Evening Standard…]

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