There is no such thing as conversation. It is an illusion. There are intersecting monologues, that is all. — Rebecca West

When women speak with other women, the boundaries of polite society are often discarded. When gathered together away from the squeamish attitudes of men, the delicate veil is lifted away and the conversations veer away from light subjects like cute onesies to the realities of postpartum or silly and crass chats that would easily be at home on a “Sex and the City” rerun. Our latest read takes us on a two decade journey of conversations the protagonist has with other women.

Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey

By now it’s not particularly shocking for readers to come across a woman’s rage in fiction, however Popkey takes that palpable anger and turns it into an astounding collection of discussions in her debut novel. The book is divided into chapters around conversations the protagonist has in different places at different times in her life. Most of the conversations the protagonist has is with other women and Popkey peels back the Ms. Manners conventions to craft a pulsating, raw and biting, fragmented portrait of the women speaking. The women discuss power struggles with their significant others, they explore desire and the banal nature of motherhood. The women, some of whom are friends, family or strangers from the grocery store chat about falling in love with their ex-husbands, cheating, the mechanics of trying to get pregnant and rape.

Popkey paints her narrative with a sharp and at times venomous voice. Her characters do not pull punches, they spill out their splinters of truth without taking time to consider whether or not their admissions will make them come across as unlikable. As the reader, we do not get a clear take on all of these women as we meet them for a singular conversation or two, but Popkey’s searing revelations molds these women (who could easily be two dimensional in a less talented author’s hands) and builds dynamically flawed and realistic characters. Her words eviscerate the ephemera of social situations and stab at the underlying current of unsentimental truths that her women unflinchingly reveal.

From the book jacket…

“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.”

If you enjoy…

Readers who enjoy Popkey’s fragmented portraits will also enjoy Jenny Offill’s novel “The Dept. of Speculation.” Offill’s book tells the story of how the wife tries to retrace the steps of how her crumbling marriage became so stagnant.