Thank you to Random House for providing me with an eARC of this via Edelweiss! This novel comes out on January 7.
Topics of Conversation is another in a string of books I’ve come across lately that center on and explore what I’m going to call the problematic woman. The problematic woman is not problematic because she is Bad—whatever that means—but because she is “full of problems or difficulties.” By “problematic,” here, I mean women who feel too much or too little, are too passive or too foolhardy, judge their decisions too harshly or not enough. Women who, in one way or another, struggle to calibrate their actions, thoughts, and emotions to their environments. (This struggle isn’t necessarily pathological, though it sometimes is.)
Topics of Conversation follows in the wake of novels like Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation or Julia Armfeld’s Salt Slow , novels that find women experiencing a whole spectrum of unappealing/undesirable/uncomfortable emotional states. I think the synopsis of Popkey’s novel is exactly right; it is indeed a novel about “desire, disgust, motherhood, loneliness, art, pain, feminism, anger, envy, guilt.” It doesn’t make you root for its protagonist, exactly, but it does make you understand her.
And honestly, I’m glad that I’m seeing more and more novels like Popkey’s and Moshfegh’s and Armfeld’s. I love seeing women being hypocritical and selfish and callous. I love seeing authors write women who have the capacity to experience all these emotions, even the so-called “negative” ones.
Bring on the problematic women.