Ok, so this came up while I was away and Ms. Ninja tried to explain it to me, but I didn’t really get it. Then I found this article in BookForum that sent me to this article in Slate in which a woman claims that the viral New Yorker piece “Cat Person” is her life story: stolen. Except, you know, all the important bits that make the story what it is and caused it to go viral. So…. Um? Anyway, remember when Michael Winter used to get in shit for including very-thinly-veiled versions of people he knew in his stories? Remember every other fiction writer out there doing basically the same? I’m not sure what the problem is here. The ideas have to come from somewhere. And fictionalizing the otherwise boring events of the average set of events are standard practice. You’d think a writer would know that. Sure, it must feel weird, especially when so much attention goes to something you feel you were a part of but didn’t actually get credit for having d….. Oh….wait. Right. I see. Here’s a great context piece on the whole thing.
Nowicki was traumatized by the experience of seeing herself reflected so specifically in fiction in this way, and who can blame her. The experience of reading “Cat Person” was eerie enough for many women as it was. She, as many did, wondered how Roupenian had managed to access her interior world so vividly. Add to that the jarring realization that a passing glance at her real life had inspired its set pieces, and a certain kind of existential crisis seems inevitable.
However, as Nowicki goes on to explain what really happened with “Charles,” including a significant three-year relationship and a protracted break-up, it quickly becomes clear the story was not really based on them at all.
Even Nowicki acknowledges this at the outset:
“Some of the most pivotal scenes—the sexual encounter and the hostile text messages—were unfamiliar to me.”
But in “Cat Person,” the sexual encounter and the hostile text messages are the story. Nowicki—understandably—can’t get past the specter of “Charles” and his exploits with a younger woman from her home town, working at the movie theater where she worked. To her, these details are the most interesting part, and for good reason. But that is not the case for the general reader. To everyone else, they are not only not especially unique or noteworthy, they are wholly immaterial.