‘The First Bad Man’ By Miranda July Review: Thrilling, Thoughtful And Unexpected
Miranda July, the independent filmmaker, multi-media artist, writer and curly haired icon, has written a fantastic first novel, The First Bad Man, which defied contemporary literary conventions and set the 2015 publishing year on a splendid course.
Cheryl Glickman, the narrator of the tale, is tremendously eccentric and suffers from a horrible psychosomatic disorder called globus hystericus, swelling of the throat when anxious. She is also haunted by delusions and compulsions. She is fixated on memories of a baby boy, Kubleko Bondy, whom she knew when she was six, who now manifests himself in different babies. She claims an intense and spiritual connection with these babies. Despite Cheryl’s unorthodox character, July writes her in such an understandable way that the reader may start to find solice in her strange ways.
In addition to these delusions, Cheryl also suffers from an irrational fear of becoming overwhelmed with clutter, causing her to use as little energy as possible to live. “Let’s say a person is down in the dumps, or maybe just lazy,” Cheryl says, “and they stop doing the dishes. Soon the dishes are piled sky-high and it seems impossible to even clean a fork. So the person starts eating with dirty forks out of dirty dishes and this makes the person feel like a homeless person. So they stop bathing. Which makes it hard to leave the house. The person begins to throw trash anywhere and pee in cups because they’re closer to the bed.”
She eats her food right off the pan, because dishes don’t pile if you don’t have them. She reads books right next to the shelf, holding her finger in the spot where she took out the book. She insists that every object has a home and thus must be used in its own home.
She is obsessed with her co-worker, Phillip, and begins to see him as someone with whom she has evolved in different lifetimes – an extension of herself – while also being wildly in love with him.
Cheryl lives in this unhealthy limbo of anxiety for a while until her friends, Suzanne and Carl, coercively ask her to give their 20-year-old daughter, Clee, a place to live until she finds an acting gig to be able to afford living on her own. Cheryl had no choice but to accept.
Clee is voluptuous, sloppy and the polar opposite of Cheryl, disrupting her “system.” Their relationship starts off as mutual disgust, followed by disdain and repulsion. One day, they get into a minor argument and Clee roughly pushes Cheryl against a wall. Clee starts beating up Cheryl on a regular basis.
At first, Cheryl is appalled. Her therapist gives her the obvious solution to the situation: “Fight back.” So she does, as best as her middle-aged body could.
Clee and Cheryl’s fights begin to spark a fantasy within Cheryl’s twisted mind. She imagines Phillip, who has recently rejected her for a 16-year-old, rasta-wearing sweetheart, performing shocking sexual acts on Clee. Her fantasy turns to obsession and, consequently, compulsion. Soon, she cannot even see a man without fantasizing Clee having sex with them.
After lots of therapy, Cheryl devises the tactic of singing a song every time these thoughts erupt. It works and the two live normally and happily – or as normal as they can be in this story – for a while, until Clee gets pregnant.
Suddenly, a chain of unexpected events follow, winding the story down paths and turns that lead to nowhere and everywhere.
The First Bad Man is a moving and strange story of love, friendship and regret. It is heartbreaking, beautifully composed and deeply complex.
The thrilling novel is, like July, quirky, artful and unexpected.
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