Posts Tagged ‘Miranda Popkey’

‘Topics of Conversation’ by Miranda Popkey – Over the Edge

‘Topics of Conversation’ by Miranda Popkey (2020) – 205 pages


Not everyone is immediately repulsed by tenderness as I am.”

‘Topics of Conversation’ is an edgy novel, perhaps a little too edgy for its own good.

The main idea of the novel is that this unnamed woman relays memorable conversations she has had with usually other women over 17 years (from 2000 to 2017). We are given such sketchy scant information about our narrator that she remains a shadowy figure, a near mental case. There is very little evidence of her maturing. This reader did not develop any empathy for this woman’s situation. She definitely is not a role model and seems almost self-loathing.

There is little comfortable continuity in our narrator’s living circumstances. Neither our narrator nor her husband are fully developed. All we learn about John is that he is nice to her, and she disdains men who are nice to her. She instinctively hates kindness.

The conversations are more interesting than the circumstances of our narrator’s life which seem often so outrageous and edgy as to defy any normal interest in her.

The novel does raise some provoking and scandalous questions. Is it possible that a married woman today might want to have sex with a stranger, a man? Is it possible that a woman today might have such disdain for her husband because he treats her too nice, and thus she goes out and picks up a strange (in more ways than one) man at a hotel bar? Popkey raises these questions that others do not dare raise in this #MeToo era.

In one conversation, a woman friend tells about how she admitted to her husband that she had an affair with a man, but that she had made up the affair to get out of the marriage. At that point our unnamed narrator observes that “beneath the first premise of our friendship was the understanding that we were, both of us, bad people.”

At one point, one of the women talking raises the question that if men leave their families and little children to go off on their own all the time, shouldn’t women be able to do the same thing. To me this question is over the edge, but I suppose that mine is just a male point of view.

Some of the conversations are quite meaningful; others not so much. In one chapter, our narrator watches a lengthy You Tube video of a woman describing being at a party where the famous incident of author Norman Mailer stabbing his wife Adele occurred in 1960. In some chapters our female narrator attempts to relate the conversation to her own situation, but in the Mailer chapter not so much, and I wondered how this gross incident related to anything at all.

Many of the individual sentences in ‘Topics of Conversation’ are strong and insightful, but the novel as a whole fails to cohere. These somewhat sporadic conversations force the novel to be necessarily episodic.

Perhaps if the narrator had been given a name and a more solid, understandable. and less edgy life situation, she could have sustained my empathy and interest throughout this short novel, but unfortunately that did not happen.


Grade: C+



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