Peel It Back: The Disconnect Between Age, Power and Pleasure

By Emily Conklin, Staff Writer

Cat Person, a short story by Kristen Roupenian, may be one of the most important works of fiction published by The New Yorker in our present era.

 

We’re in the midst of #MeToo. We have seen two Women’s Marches. But this publicity does not stop the internal confusion or maze of emotional search warrants requested by girls like Margot, 20-year-old college girl: bored behind the movie theatre snack bar, until suddenly wanted.

 

Cat Person doesn’t just explore the idea of consent. Beyond those important yes and no’s, the story touches on a reality that few can define, but that many have experienced. Age, while it is not necessarily a barrier, comes with a set of rules not handed out by the Disney Princesses and their Prince Charmings: John Green and Nicholas Sparks have avoided this very real and very unpleasant space.

 

A younger girl, an older guy — a search for a higher pleasure, emotional maturity, more fun: something new. The picture is painted in Margot’s mind in vivid colors, her mysterious movie-goer who loves Red Vines enough to come see her every time. With a box of licorice, a fantasy is unleashed.

 

From gritty bars and candy runs at gas stations, Margot is seduced by the bare-minimum: a subconscious yet powerfully romantic emotional response running unchecked in our current hook-up culture. The appeal of greater freedom, his own car, his own place. It’s a blissful notion that one day, at an ever elusive older age, you may become your best self: it’s tempting to think that an older guy could be your ticket, your mentor, your way out.

 

But Cat Person bites. Hard.

 

Roupenian expertly navigates the internal monologue of a young girl striving to be something else — she laughs along at jokes about Imax-3D movies “at the expense of this imaginary film-snob version of her.” The scenes of flirtation and intimacy are crafted to be so painfully awkward, our elite third-person narrator giving us glimpses into the moments of burning discomfort. Scenes are structured with a rawness, an honesty that turns over rocks keeping in place things unsaid, and references to a ‘she’ that could be any of us.

 

The romantic illusion is gone. His house is a mess, he unbuckles his pants before realizing that he still has his shoes on, his kisses are sloppy and wet and horrifying: Margot gets it, but still clings to the idea that maybe it can work, maybe it’s just her, trying to “bludgeon her resistance into submission by taking a sip of the whiskey.” Closing her eyes, she attempts to call back the movie-star moments she’s collected, and admittedly, maybe embellished.

 

Pull back the veil. Age does not exempt mistakes and a girl’s self worth cannot be measured by age, nor does maturity have a gage.

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