In the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, critically beloved works like Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People and Phoebe Waller Bridge’s TV show Fleabag have wrestled to reconcile some women’s desire to be dominated in romantic relationships with their espoused feminist ideals. Rather than dismiss these fantasies as patriarchal brainwashing, Miranda Popkey tackles the contradiction head-on in her debut novel, Topics of Conversation. Over the course of 17 years, an unnamed narrator has a series of discussions with women who want to be subjugated by men. The stories are engrossing, even sometimes disturbing, but invariably filled with empathy. The narrator ventures several theories as to why these women may crave submission: When she leaves her kale-eating, liberal husband because he’s too nice, the narrator wonders if she has been “tricked” by the patriarchy into desiring the wrong things in a partner. Later, she argues she is paralyzed by the sheer number of choices she must make in her life, and simply wants another person to tell her what to do. The narrator never reconciles the political with the personal, but that’s exactly what makes her struggle so relatable. Popkey offers a new, compelling layer to the conversation about consent.
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