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Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey
Literary fiction

Topics of Conversation

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Miranda Popkey, on your first book!

by Miranda Popkey

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Quick take

Dive into snapshots of a woman's most intimate thoughts as she tries to make sense of the relationships in her life.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Psychological

    Psychological

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FemaleFriendship

    Female friendships

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Cerebral

    Cerebral

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SalaciousPeach

    Salacious

Synopsis

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.

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Content warning

This is a very short book that is more about ideas and less about plot.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Topics of Conversation.
Topics of Conversation

Italy, 2000

From the shore, the sea in three pieces like an abstract painting in gentle motion. Closest to the sand, liquid the pale green of a fertile lake. Then a swath of aquamarine, the color you imagine reading the word: aqua as in water, marine as in sea. Finally, a deep blue, the color of pigment, paint squirting fresh from a tin tube. Sylvia Plath, writing in her journal the month she met Ted Hughes, the day, no, the day before: “What word blue could get that dazzling drench of blue moonlight on the flat, luminous field of white snow, with the black trees against the sky, each with its particular configuration of branches?” No matter the snow, the black trees. The sea was that color, the color of what word blue.

I was reading Plath’s journals that summer because I was twenty-one and daffy with sensation, drunk with it. And for the kind of person who goes straight from a major in English to a graduate program for study of same—that is, for me—The Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950–1962, republished that year, unabridged, counts as pleasure reading. They met, Sylvia and Ted did, in February, and were married in June, on the sixteenth, Bloomsday. That was on purpose. On purpose and a dead giveaway—that they shouldn’t have done it I mean, get married. The youthful symbolism of it. Or one of, anyway. One of the dead giveaways. This was, I was, in Otranto, in August. The sea was three shades of what might have been called blue and I was both on vacation and not.

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Why I love it

Topics 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 more 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.

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Member ratings (6,817)

  • Kaylee S.

    Youngwood, PA

    Expertly experimental. It’s a stream of the narrator’s thoughts, meant to be a conversation with the reader. It’s a great message the narrator is sending without saying—it makes readers do the work.

  • Isaac W.

    West Hollywood, CA

    INCREDIBLE! Not a traditional story but it’s like Being John Malkovich. It reads not like stream of consciousness but like you’ve entered the slipstream of these lives. It’s fascinating and so great!

  • emmy w.

    New York, NY

    Was smitten with the dark and honest portrayal of self-indulgent thought and the highly intelligent prose, effusive and confessionary like having unfettered access to (wo)mankind’s deepest skeletons.

  • Abi J.

    Kansas City, MO

    Such a poignant and unsettling story. The narrator is unreliable and unlikable, but I found myself identifying with her anyway. She’s saying things I’ve only ever thought, but never dared to speak.

  • Ashley H.

    The Villages, FL

    I haven’t read a book like this since my early 20s-the last one was probably some trumped up book for a lit class- but this one, was magic. There was power, and fear mixed with mistakes and triumphs.

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