Writing Analysis: Cat Person

by Intermittent Rain ~ December 20th, 2017. Filed under: Writing analysis.


* Modified January 18th, 2018 *

I’m not a woman and perhaps my perspective will miss the boat for many readers of this wildly popular story published in The New Yorker but my objective is to do writing analysis; there will be no “How To Reply When Asked About ‘Cat Person'” or “My True Life ‘Cat Person’ Experience”.First, a list of elements (not events but factors that reappear, in varied guises, throughout):

  1. Acting as trained/expected (previously a barista where flirting increased tips, and as a young, single person),
  2. and having dreams and needs (she has a fantasy version of Robert, jokingly tells her stepdad they will likely get married, is anxious when Robert doesn’t reply to her texts right away),
  3. but being uncertain as to whether Robert, in reality, is a satisfactory choice (she initiates some steps then recants in her own head, likes him when he’s comforting but finds him revolting at other times),
  4. results in couched speaking, inconsistent and shifting thoughts and feelings, attempts to communicate without words, and,
  5. combined with a fear of appearing capricious or spoiled,
  6. leads to resigned compliance.

Margot’s neediness expresses itself differently than Robert’s. Hers presents as earnestness and agreeability whereas his is expressed as awkward orders and demands — awkward enough that an older, more experienced, more confident version of Margot might find them laughable or disturbing, or, to be accurate; more laughable or more disturbing since Margot does succumb to a laughing fit and has thoughts that he might murder her. Margot’s youth is to his advantage.

Both characters have challenges with communication: hers due to age and inexperience and society-trained female behavior and worries, his due in part to being a loner-nerd who possibly often goes to movies and bars by himself. Both have some interest in the other but also uncertainty about the others’ interest in themselves. This is exacerbated by their early communication; weeks of texting witty comments and funny anecdotes without any real sharing or discussion so by the time they actually go on a date they know very little about each other, including their respective ages. That, for me, is a sub theme; communication in general, but especially between opposite sexes and when using electronic methods with modern attitudes toward communication.

The elements that lead to Margot’s situation, Margot’s hesitant, tentative way of suggesting or making choices, Robert’s unrefined declamatory style, the neediness on both their parts as well as the lack of knowing each other and the difficulties in communication permeate the entire story. Were this an essay for an English Lit course I would list them but instead I’ll just leave them highlighted in my analysis version of the story.

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Structurally, I come up with these sections:

  1. opening
  2. Robert at her movie theater 2 times
  3. texting
  4. going to movie
  5. first bar
  6. second bar
  7. house, and sex
  8. post sex
  9. drive home and end of evening
  10. internal narrative and Tamara breaking them up
  11. see him in the bar, his texts

or, slightly compressed,

  1. opening, movie theater, texting, incipient crush – 1,061 words
  2. movie – 681
  3. first bar – 566
  4. second bar – 1,003
  5. house, sex – 1,881
  6. post sex – 668
  7. drive back, break up, bar, texts – 1,351

Word count-wise the house setting and sex take the largest portion and are 3,771 to 5,182 out of a total of 7,201 words, so about one quarter of the words and located in the third of four quarters, were this a football or basketball game. There are two bar scenes but I’m uncertain whether this intentionally mirrors the two times Robert comes into her work, or three bar moments in total mirroring the three times she sees Robert in movie theaters? There are almost as many sections after the sex as before but shorter, so a nice denouement, though my breakdown by section is by no means definitive.

4,773 words are the single evening, the date, so well more than half. 1,300 words before, up to and including the texting period, and 1,128 after so again a little more lead in and a slightly quicker end. If you’ve read the story you know how tersely it ends and that it ends the way the relationship began, with texting, though now the meanings are brutally clear and personal.

One of the recurring comments from one reader of my own writing is that he often wants more story and more depth. What is here that I might not have included are the bar scenes or at least the amount of time devoted to them, and maybe not as much time in the post-coital scene. Food for my future consideration.

For some reason, not so much during the first read but during subsequent readings, I found the back story and non-Robert elements obvious, separate. For me these include:

  • reference to past barista work
  • conversations with her stepdad
  • movie choice, not part of the story until after the movie is finished
  • seeing the grad student TA in the bar
  • losing her virginity (only reference to her mother)
  • having seen her high school boyfriend during break, who is gay

I’m unclear what the last three add. More food for consideration.

It’s only when, date over, back at school, the obsession and focus from the early stages of a relationship gone that her roommate and other students appear. Though the rest of her life starts to become part of the story we never do find out what she’s studying. Perhaps as a sophomore she’s undeclared, perhaps that’s part of her uncertainty at this point in her life, and it’s likely not important, though an inexperienced writer might think it needs to be included. And where exactly are those cats?

 

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