Something of a real-life miracle happened over the weekend: a short story went viral. Short stories, for those unfamiliar with the genre, are the bridesmaids of the literary world: never quite in the spotlight like the novel (which would be the bride in this extended metaphor), even though they can be equally beautiful and unique and sometimes even more interesting because they don’t have everything wrapped up into a perfect bouquet but instead end their night by making out with the groom’s drunk uncle and ordering chocolate pudding from room service (sorry, this got weird).
As a short story writer myself, nothing baffles me more than the form’s lack of popularity in the modern age, considering we’re all WAY TOO BUSY to read an entire book, yet you can read a short story in a single subway ride or during your wait at the doctor’s office or while your Netflix is buffering (or even, gasp, instead of Netflix). And so I was truly delighted to see that “Cat Person,” a short story by Kristen Roupenian published in The New Yorker, went bonkers viral on social media this weekend.
The story follows Margot, a 20-year-old college student, and Robert, a 34-year-old adult male of some kind, through a courtship that results in one date, some very bad sex, and the resultant text messaging that follows when Margot decides to end things.
What made the story go viral, according to the bazillion tweets I saw about it, was not just the fact that the piece is well-written and engaging and at times delightfully bizarre, but how darn relatable it is. For so many women who have dated men, we’ve been Margot, maybe more times that we’d like to admit, and seeing some of our most personal thoughts set to paper — “At last, after a frantic rabbity burst, he shuddered, came, and collapsed on her like a tree falling, and, crushed beneath him, she thought, brightly, This is the worst life decision I have ever made!” — was a bit uncanny.
I’m so delighted that the story has gotten this much attention (I mean there’s even a “Men React to Cat Person” Twitter handle now) and it’s very much worth reading, along with Roupenian’s interview about the piece and dating and self-delusions, but I’m here to tell you that short stories have been doing this particular thing of putting your experiences to words for a long time, and it’s high time we celebrate them.
So if you dug the too-real-ness of “Cat Person,” might I suggest checking out these other short story collections that will have you shuddering with self-recognition and joy:
1. Lorrie Moore, Like Life
Lorrie Moore is a goddamn gift to short stories, and I don’t think I could steer you wrong by suggesting you read any of her many critically-acclaimed collections, but the stories in Like Life stand out to me as prime examples of authentic, human experiences that we’ve all had, though rarely talk about. Bonus: Moore is hilarious.
Must-read: “You’re Ugly, Too,” about a Midwestern college professor who visits her sister in Manhattan over Halloween and experiences a cringe-worthy set-up.
“Are you… in a relationship?” Earl suddenly blurted.
“Now? As we speak?”
“Well, I mean, I”m sure you have a relationship to your work.” A smile, a weird one, nestled in his mouth like an egg. She thought of zoos in parks, how when cities were under siege, during world wars, people ate the animals. “But I mean, with a man.”
2. Leopoldine Core, When Watched
Reading Leopoldine Core’s debut collection can feel voyeuristic, watching over the mundane, everyday moments in men and women’s lives, capturing moments that feel both incredibly intimate and widely relatable. I’m especially grateful for Core’s attention to lesbian relationships, something we could use a lot more of in the fiction lanscape as a whole.
Must-read: “Historic Tree Nurseries,” about a lesbian couple who embark on a 500-mile road trip to adopt a dog.
“Frances was fifty-nine and Peanut was twenty-five, and because of this they were often distracted by the looks of others in publi. Usually people assumed Frances was Peanut’s mother and gave the pair bright, encouraging smiles, happy to see a mother and daughter so glad to be near each other. But then Peanut would give Frances a long, open kiss on the mouth and every smiler would stiffen, fascinated with disgust.”
3. Claire Vaye Watkins, Battleborn
The stories in Claire Vaye Watkin’s debut collection all take place in the deserts of Nevada, but even if you grew up in, say, the Jewy suburbs of Chicago (like me) you’ll be shocked at how much you will see yourself in her characters.
Must-read: “Rondine al Nido,” the story of a woman telling her boyfriend about a haunting experience of sexual assault she had when she was 16.
The young men outnumber the girls by two. Our girl likes the way the four of them form a slowly closing semicircle around her and her friend. She likes, too, how they all look the same, in their baggy jeans and pastel collared shirts.
4. Aryn Kyle, Boys and Girls Like You and Me
Aryn Kyle takes on the ripe territory of female adolescence in all its angsty, confusing glory in this collection of short stories. Her writing is darkly funny, highly readable, and will have you counting your lucky stars you made it through your teenage years already.
Must-read: “Femme,” told from the first person plural, is a study in one particular kind of female friendship.
“We don’t have many friends, but we trust you. We let you get close to us. Your other friends are suspicious, but you are sorry that they don’t know us the way you do. They don’t see our fragile side, don’t know what you know. You can sense our pain, sense that we have been betrayed or wounded, abandoned or misused. We have allowed you access we don’t allow everyone. You see us as we really are. You are special.”
5. Lindsay Hunter, Don’t Kiss Me
The women in Lindsay Hunter’s stories are broken, grotesque, self-destructive, unapologetic, and you’ll love them all. While we may all not live with such abandon for social mores, you’ll recognize bits of yourself in each one, which can be thrilling and uncomfortable all at once.
Must-read: “Three Things You Should Know About Peggy Paula,” a short piece about a woman who makes less-than-great decisions on her quest to feel validated, and loved, by men.
“In high school Peggy Paula worked as a waitress at the Perkins. Night shifts were her favorite, kids from her school would come in after games or dances with bleary eyes and messy hair and Peggy Paula knew they’d been drinking and smoking those flimsy joints she’d see them passing, the girls with smudged makeup and rat’s nests in the back of their heads, proud unblinknig eyes, scanning the dining room like I dare you, I dare you to guess what I just let Jared or Steve or Casey do to me, I let him and I liked it and I don’t care, and Peggy Paula felt honored just to be near these girls…”