A short story about an awkward, troubling sexual encounter has gone viral, drawing a "record-breaking" number of online views.
The “excruciating bad-date story”, ‘Cat Person' by Kristen Roupenian has reportedly been shared on Twitter more than a thousand times and liked almost 2,500 times since it was posted online on Saturday (9th December) on the New Yorker website, according to the BBC. It follows a student Margot who works at a cinema and goes on a date with an older customer, Robert, and has sex with him, after which he continues to text her.
The story was one of the most-read pieces of fiction on the magazine's website all year as well as one of its most-read overall pieces. The New Yorker's fiction editor Deborah Treisman said the magazine had timed the publication of the story to capitalise on the discussions around sexual harassment, prompted by the numerous allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
The story explores the murkier elements of sexual encounters: "Looking at him like that, so awkwardly bent, his belly thick and soft and covered with hair, Margot recoiled. But the thought of what it would take to stop what she had set in motion was overwhelming; it would require an amount of tact and gentleness that she felt was impossible to summon."
The story, which is Roupenian's debut in the New Yorker and was inspired by a “small but nasty encounter I had with a person I met online” has provoked intense discussions across the internet about dating, sexual relations as well as the short story form. She said in an interview with Treisman: “I was shocked by the way this person treated me, and then immediately surprised by my own shock. How had I decided that this was someone I could trust?
"The incident got me thinking about the strange and flimsy evidence we use to judge the contextless people we meet outside our existing social networks, whether online or off.”
Roupenian has revealed she is “putting the finishing touches on a short-story collection” and also working on a novel. Her agent, Jenni Ferrari-Adler of New York-based Union Literary, also tweeted out a link mentioning the forthcoming collection. Roupenian, who has not previously published a book, is a Zell Fellow at the University of Michigan, and won the Grand Prize winning story for the Eleventh Annual Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards last year.
She said the “first draft of the story came fairly easily” and that she wrote it in a “feverish burst” but that she did feel self-conscious about being “someone older to mimic the communication style of a slightly different generation”. Treisman described the piece as providing “a kind of commentary on how people get to know each other, or don’t, through electronic communication”.
Treisman revealed on Monday (December 11th) that four out of the five most read stories online were written by women. She wrote: "In the midst of a record-breaking response to last week’s short story, 'Cat Person', by Kristen Roupenian, who was making her début in our pages, we thought it would be a good time to take a look back at the year and see which pieces of fiction most excited readers in 2017. Of the five stories that drew the most readers online, four were written by women—Roupenian, Samantha Hunt, Zadie Smith, and Curtis Sittenfeld—and one by a man, F Scott Fitzgerald."
Natalie Raabe, the magazine’s director of communications, told HuffPost: “Of all the fiction we published this year, ‘Cat Person’ was by far the most-read online. It’s also one of our most-read pieces overall for the year.”
Many authors and publishers discussed the story on Twitter. Journalist and author Rhiannon L Cosslett tweeted: “This New Yorker short story has gone viral which, to me, seems to indicate that not enough short stories about young women's experiences are being published,” while Quadrille Books commissioning editor Susannah Otter said: “Finally read Cat Person.. how great that a short story went viral.”
Writer and lecturer Nicholas Royle, who has edited many editions of Best British Short Stories (Salt Publishing) told The Bookseller the publicity around the story is unusual. He said: “I can’t remember a similar case of a short story going viral because it successfully exploited the current mood of dating anxiety and sexual paranoia and then found itself being discussed like an article only to irritate commentators who would remind us it’s only a story. ‘Only a story’. As if fiction shouldn’t explore these matters.”