Thursday, January 31, 2019

Book Review: "You Know You Want This" by Kristen Roupenian

Wow, what a crazy collection of short stories this was!!

Kristen Roupenian's debut collection, You Know You Want This, is at turns frank, brutal, disturbing, kinky, poignant, emotional, and eye-opening. Her stories are about relationships of all kinds—parental, romantic, sexual, those between friends and lovers, and even those between relative strangers. The relationships are rarely equal, in that most often, someone has the upper hand, although it might not always last for long.

This collection reminded me a little of Carmen Maria Machado's fantastic collection Her Body and Other Parties, in that they explore imbalances of power between the genders, and a number of the stories have some sort of erotic charge. A few of the 12 stories in this book are a little weirder than most, with violence, fear, and even the supernatural at their core, while some take a more traditional route.

Among my favorites in this collection were: "Bad Boy," in which a couple starts out wanting to help their friend get over a dysfunctional relationship, only to create an even more dysfunctional relationship with him; "The Boy in the Pool," about childhood best friends who had grown apart, and a teenage crush on an actor from that same period; "The Matchbox Sign," which tells of a couple struggling with problems real and imagined; "Scarred," about a woman who conjures her heart's desire, a naked man, after finding a book of spells in the library; and "Cat Person," in which a young woman finds herself in a relationship with a man for whom she's not sure how she feels.

Roupenian has a vivid imagination, a talent for evocative imagery, and she creates characters which, for the most part, seemed like everyday people trapped in some unusual situations. (Obviously that doesn't apply to every story.) While a few of the stories were a little too bizarre for my tastes (and she's unflinchingly graphic with her descriptions of violence, blood, gore, and a little bit of the macabre), overall, I found this a fascinating collection, one that will definitely stick in my mind for a long while.

This is the first short story collection I've read in 2018, and I hope it signifies that this will be a year of fresh stories from writers new and seasoned, full of memorable characters and situations that make me feel, make me think, and at times, make me a little uncomfortable.

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