Originally published on The Nerd Daily Review by Beth MowbrayReading the synopsis alone for Topics of Conversation evokes a powerful set of emotions Take a look Miranda Popkey writes of desire, disgust, motherhood, loneliness, art, pain, feminism, anger, envy, and guilt composed almost exclusively of conversations between women the stories they tell each other, and the stories they tell themselves, about shame and love, infidelity and self sabotage Stunning, right This novel opens with an unnamed female narrator in Italy The year is 2000, she has just completed her undergraduate program in English and after the summer, she will begin a graduate program studying the same In the meantime, however, she enjoys reading the journals of Sylvia Plath and discussing affairs with older professors alongside the mother of the children she babysits If that doesn t set a mood, then what does Popkey s story then unfolds across two decades, each chapter a different time and place, a different life experience, a different conversation Throughout these scenes, the narrator winds her way through life in a way which rings true to the female experience while also commenting on the inherent struggles She goes to graduate school, moving out into the world in an attempt to define her life beyond She navigates a marriage which turns into a sense of being trapped, feeling lost in her own life She shares friendships that come and go, infatuations with the lives of others And she attempts to bond with her mother, as well as with other mothers, while still desperately trying to maintain her own sense of self Or even figure out what that might be.Topics of Conversation is not just about these vignettes, though it is also about the type of people who live within them Many themes thread their way throughout and identity is arguably the foundation of this text Popkey deftly explores the way women learn to be in the world The way expectations are both overtly and subtly modelled by others The way one blindly picks up on these influences and, in turn, models them in their own life, denies them, or fights against them.Popkey also speaks broadly to patterns of intimacy and control in romantic and sexual relationships Most strikingly on display are the traditional power dynamics and ways in which men attempt to keep their women through jealousy, envy, fathering them, promising them the world, and retracting such promises She exposes the masculine desire for control which springs not from their power, but from the lack thereof She confronts the standard constructs of women being raised to believe they shouldn t desire or enjoy sex And what it means, how others react, if they do The concept of women being judged with a double standard, judged for doing the same things men have always done, is not new after all.What is perhaps most interesting, though, is how Popkey then turns this idea on its head and speaks to that which often goes unspoken The uncontrollable desire to be controlled The relief of not having to make decisions for oneself And the guilt, the shame, in having such desires The reader is exposed to the results of both accepting and challenging the traditional power dynamic How self esteem or the lack thereof and the innate desire for approval drive one s actions and choices The narrator very directly describes herself as a monster she feels anger and disgust toward herself, feels unlovable In many ways this connects back to the issue of control, as she takes comfort in being told what to do, does not easily embrace kindness, and often does not appear comfortable with being treated well.Throughout the novel the narrator always appears to be thinking of the better story, imagining how she might make her life exciting Feeling like she is missing something, wanting Maybe the narrator would have made different choices, in hindsight, as many would It may be that she regrets the many points where she could have done something different, but did not Perhaps this comes from a discomfort in our society with women actually expressing what they want The same rules do not necessarily apply, however, within same sex relationships and Popkey also explores this intimacy Not a sexual intimacy, although there is an underlying current of the erotic in some of these platonic relationships, but rather the intimacy created by sharing secrets, building a bond, and understanding one another through shared experiences.The honesty and depth of the narrator s story speaks broadly to the female experience, particularly expected gender roles and preconceived notions of sex and relationships With a candor seldom seen, Topics of Conversation explores how these norms are internalized and challenges them in ways both subtle and overt, serious and exaggerated Miranda Popkey has a voice that is witty and biting you won t want to miss this debut It may just be one of my favourite releases for 2020 Still going to re read this closer to publication, but I want to get some initial thoughts up before the year is out I can see this being one of the big reads of 2020 Miranda Popkey s novel stands up on its own merits, but for purposes of comparison I d agree with the Goodreads blurb which recommends it for readers of Rachel Cusk and Jenny Offill, though at times I was reminded of the clarity in Sally Rooney s writing as well The story follows an unnamed woman over the course of 15 years through the various conversations she has with different women she encounters much like Cusk s Outline trilogy, these conversations range widely in content but each of them brings the reader somewhere closer to understanding the nature of humans and one s self, relationships, motherhood, shame and desire, and what it means to be a woman dealing with each of these things I think the blurb sums things up pretty well What is the shape of a life Is it the things that happen to us Or is it the stories we tell about the things that happen to us Recommended Thank you Netgalley and Serpent s Tail Profile Books for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review. Why I love itby Cristina ArreolaTopics of Conversation is my worst nightmare come true a book in which my darkest, most shameful, most secret thoughts are laid bare on the page The title of this brisk, slim novel hints at its atypical structure in lieu of a conventional plot, this novel takes us through twenty disparate years of the unnamed narrator s life.Each chapter of this debut is a different conversation taking place during the unnamed narrator s life, from college years to newlywed status to motherhood These conversations, primarily with other women, are usually unrelated to one other, but all are about sex, fear, motherhood, power, and disgust It is a feast of intimacies that I gulped up greedily.This is a provocative novel that pulses with curiosity, and it flows like actual conversations moving from the mundane to the profane to the profound all within a few sentences As the narrator tells us in the very first chapter, I am never covetous than when someone tells me a story, a secret As you race through this novel, you ll understand exactly what she means You might feel a little uncomfortable, like you re overhearing a conversation that has become far too vulnerable But you won t turn away.Read at Remember the name Miranda Popkey right now Her debut book topics of conversation comes out in January and it is one you will not want to miss I was reminded of Sally Rooney and Melissa Broder but a little intellectual and grown up Not taking away from either of those two women and their ability to write a great novel that I enjoy but Popkey is the real deal Smart, innovative, and brutally honest about tough subjects Mainly focused on the normalization of women s sexuality and how gender plays a roll in our society and how it dictates the way desire, disgust, and carnal relationships are viewed, unequally..Topics of conversation almost reads like a series of short stories taking place over a twenty year period while an unnamed woman has, well, conversations with other women Touching on subjects of their infidelity and their self loathing, their loneliness and their pain, their love and guilt From late nights on a beach with an older woman, to the lingering people still drinking late into the night after a party Popkey uses an eclectic set of women to serve as supporting actors in this one woman s life varying in age and relationship stages, all speaking their truths like they were best friends catching up over a glass of wine..The one thing that set this book apart for me was the enthralling writing, the way she uses dialogue is on par with some of the greats, this was not particularly a page turning eruption of a read, it was an intimate and erotic work of sophistication that kept me intrigued from the opening page of reading Sylvia Plath on an exotic beach to the very last line that lingers with you With strong resemblances to Rachel Cusk and Jenny Offill, Miranda Popkey is going to be a superstar, and you can quote me on that In two months time this book will be flooding your feed, and well into the summer of 2020 and beyond Don t say I didn t warn you For Readers Of Rachel Cusk, Lydia Davis, And Jenny Offill A Compact Tour De Force About Sex, Violence, And Self Loathing From A Ferociously Talented New Voice In Fiction Miranda Popkey S First Novel Is About Desire, Disgust, Motherhood, Loneliness, Art, Pain, Feminism, Anger, Envy, Guilt Written In Language That Sizzles With Intelligence And Eroticism The Novel Is Composed Almost Exclusively Of Conversations Between Women The Stories They Tell Each Other, And The Stories They Tell Themselves, About Shame And Love, Infidelity And Self Sabotage And Careens Through Twenty Years In The Life Of An Unnamed Narrator Hungry For Experience And Bent On Upending Her Life Edgy, Wry, Shot Through With Rage And Despair, Topics Of Conversation Introduces An Audacious And Immensely Gifted New Novelist Thank you to Random House for providing me with an eARC of this via EdelweissTopics of Conversation is another in a string of books I ve come across lately that center on and explore what I m going to call the problematic woman The problematic woman is not problematic because she is Bad whatever that means but because she is full of problems or difficulties By problematic, here, I mean women who feel too much or too little, are too passive or too foolhardy, judge their decisions too harshly or not enough Women who, in one way or another, struggle to calibrate their actions, thoughts, and emotions to their environments This struggle isn t necessarily pathological, though it sometimes is Topics of Conversation follows in the wake of novels like Ottessa Moshfegh sMy Year of Rest and Relaxationor Julia Armfeld sSalt Slow , novels that find women experiencing a whole spectrum of unappealing undesirable uncomfortable emotional states I think the synopsis of Popkey s novel is exactly right it is indeed a novel about desire, disgust, motherhood, loneliness, art, pain, feminism, anger, envy, guilt It doesn t make you root for its protagonist, exactly, but it does make you understand her And honestly, I m glad that I m seeing and novels like Popkey s and Moshfegh s and Armfeld s I love seeing women being hypocritical and selfish and callous I love seeing authors write women who have the capacity to experience all these emotions, even the so called negative ones Bring on the problematic women. When I first read the synopsis for Topics of Conversation, it took me aback Miranda Popkey writes of desire, disgust, motherhood, loneliness, art, pain, feminism, anger, envy, and guilt composed almost exclusively of conversations between women the stories they tell each other, and the stories they tell themselves, about shame and love, infidelity and self sabotage Stunning right Reading this book was just the experience I hoped it would be Popkey s story unfolds across two decades, each chapter a different time and place, a different life experience, a different conversation Throughout these vignettes the narrator winds her way through life in a way which rings true to the female experience She navigates a marriage which turns into a sense of being trapped, feeling lost in her own life She shares friendships which come and go, infatuations with the lives of others She attempts to bond with her mother and with other mothers while still desperately trying to maintain her own identity, or even figure out what that might be.In many ways my life has unfolded along a similar timeline as this narrator, which immediately connected me with the story on a practical level But the honesty and depth with which Popkey relays this story speaks broadly to the female experience particularly expected gender roles and preconceived notions of sex and relationships She explores how these norms are internalized and challenges them in ways both subtle and overt, serious and exaggerated.Miranda Popkey has a voice that is witty and biting you wont want to miss this debut, coming in January 2020 Many thanks to Emily at Knopf for gifting me this galley All thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely my own. This small but mighty debut from Miranda Popkey is told over the course of 20 years in the conversations that one unnamed narrator has Mostly, these are conversations amongst women a group of mothers in Fresno getting wine drunk while their babies sleep in the next room, divulging how they wound up single and pregnant a family trip to Italy that falls into a sensual interaction between the narrator and her friend s mother a near evil back and forth between the narrator and a friend who treats her terribly as they walk through an art exhibit on female pain, inspired by the real work of artist Sophie Calle Although Popkey focuses on the ways that women express their desires and pain to each other, she occasionally veers off into other types of interaction the narrator roleplays with a man she picked up in a hotel bar, coaching him to become a character she could hate than any other She has stream of consciousness style back and forths inside her own head that unfurl all the ways that the world we live in creates a chasm in its women between wanting to take all of our power back and wanting to give up control completely and hand the reins to someone, anyone else This book doesn t have any answers, but it has an awful lot of all the right questions. Such a gorgeous book to lose yourself in reading this feels like putting yourself underwater and not wanting to come up for air, in a very good way The reflections on what women do and want and love, on what men do or can do to them, are deeply real and raw and you will never forget them. An unnamed female narrator explores attraction disgust womanhood apathy over a timeline that spans nearly twenty years Popkey comments especially on attraction as other than sexual, on hungry desires for people, and then on self hatred, feminism and not, control, anonymity Visceral, vulnerable, excruciating, electrifying sometimes even bordering on orgasmic, for the pure, defibrillator like shock Topics of Conversation is a demand that feminine sexuality be recognized as real and complicated and SOMETHING A life giving stream of sex and self hatred, with the intelligent and erotic in equal force, this breakout book is frustratingly good I can t wait to read by Miranda Popkey.