Topics of Conversation isn't meant to entertain, it's meant to make you think | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Topics of Conversation isn't meant to entertain, it's meant to make you think

click to enlarge CP PHOTO: JORDAN SNOWDEN
CP Photo: Jordan Snowden
I chose Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey as my January Book of the Month before reading any reviews, something I normally don't do, and this week I picked up the book to start reading. So before diving in, I decided to browse reviews on Goodreads. The first few reviews were not great, coming in at one or two stars out of five, causing me to rethink my choice. Did I pick a boring book?

But I went ahead and gave it a try anyway, and I'm so glad I did. Topics of Conversation is a thought-provoking novel about women's relationships with sex told through pages-long dialogue over the course of 17 years.

What made me go on with the novel was the warning Book of the Month posted with it: "FYI This is a very short book that is more about ideas and less about plot." This is important to keep in mind while reading.

Each chapter is named after a place and year ⁠— beginning in Italy in 2000 and ending in San Joaquin Valley, Calif., in 2017 ⁠— and is made up of conversations that the unnamed main character has with an array of women throughout those years. The conversations happen exclusively between women; if there is a line of dialogue from a man, it is coming second-hand.

Topics of Conversation is fiction, but because of the prolonged discussions, it's not an easy read. If you zone out for even a sentence or two, you can get lost. And Popkey sometimes writes the conversation in pieces and out of sequential order, referring back on tidbits of information that can easily be forgotten if you’re moving too fast.

The stories the women tell each other throughout the book deal with despair, intimacy, self-sabotage, and pain, and at the end of almost every chapter, the reader finds themselves in the mind of the unnamed narrator, who is reflecting back on the conversation she had. She is stumbling through life, trying to make sense of the world and numbing herself with alcohol — a problem she tries to overcome throughout the novel.

Topics of Conversation is Popkey's debut, commenting on women's sexuality, needs and wants, and the shame that often comes with it. It's not meant to entertain, it's meant to make you think. 

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