For readers of Sally Rooney, 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.
The women in Popkey's astute debut bristle with wanting. Readers meet the unnamed narrator in Italy, "twenty-one and daffy with sensation," where she is working as a nanny for a well-off friend's younger brothers while her friend leaves her behind in favor of Greek tourists she's met on the beach. In her third week, she has a late-night conversation with her friend's mother, Artemisia, an Argentinean psychoanalyst, about their paralleled romantic histories with much older men, both their former professors. These conversations about power, responsibility, and desire, often as they manifest in relationships with men, provide the backbone for the subsequent sections of the novel, which follow the narrator through breakups with friends, with lovers, and motherhood. As the years progress, the narrator's hyperawareness and cheeky playfulness when it comes to her narrative as something she owns, grows as well. At a new moms meetup in Fresno 14 years after that night in Italy, the narrator asks the rest of the moms to share "how we got here." The story she herself shares is an echo of the one she told Artemisia, but better, the details burnished and editorialized. Popkey's prose is overly controlled, but this is nonetheless a searing and cleverly constructed novel and a fine indication of what's to come from this promising author.