The First Bad Man by Miranda July

first bad manI am one of Miranda July’s biggest fans–6’5″ and built like a line backer, okay, one and a half linebackers.

I loved her wonderful strange movie Me, You and Everyone We Know.   I think her website/artsite is terrific and her short story collection No One Belongs Her More Than You is one of my favorites.

Anyone who can come up with a story about a swim team that practices in a suburban kitchen is genius in my book.

So I was excited to hear she had written a novel, until the lukewarm reviews started to roll in.

Miranda July is not for everyone; I know this.  She’s probably not really for all that many people, but should I go with the reviews or go ahead and read the book.

I read it.

While I think she’s better with the short story, her ideas tend to fit the confines of fewer pages, I enjoyed The Fist Bad Man.  It’s a good novel.

The story concerns Cheryl Glickman, who works at a women’s self defense non-profit and lives alone.  When she agrees to take in her boss’s twenty-year-old daughter, Clee, her life begins to drastically change.  Clee is a strangely abusive young woman who both ignores and controls Cheryl.  Cheryl is both repelled and aroused by Clee who won’t have anything to do with her until halfway through the novel when she becomes pregnant.

Or does she.

What makes Cheryl interesting, and I think a perfect heroine for a Mirand July story is that she lives so much of her life in her head.  Cheryl imagines what Clee’s life is like whenever the two are apart.  She imagines Clee with her romantically.  In one of the novel’s subplots, Cheryl imagines the affair her much older boss is having with a sixteen-year-old girl.  He calls up Cheryl to ask her if he should have sex with his young girlfriend telling Cheryl that he’ll only do it if she says it’s okay.  He insists that his girlfriend has not only agreed to this, but that it was her idea.  That Cheryl is in love with him makes her situation even more uncomfortable.  She strings him along for weeks, delaying her decision while imagining the details of his May/December affair.

So much imagining is going on that I began to wonder just how much of the novel was really happening.  Was the man real at all?  Was Clee real at all?  Is the novel?

Of course not, it’s a novel.  It’s not real.

I enjoyed most of the small details in The First Bad Man.  There is plenty of the wonderful/strange stuff I found in Ms. July’s short stories–an appointment with a colorist who prescribes doses of red for example. But I can’t say the details added up to a satisfying novel.

But, I’ll be back for more.

Anyone who can dream up a swim team without a pool is worth checking in on just to see what else she may come up with.

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3 Comments

  1. I loved the beginning of this book, but can see why she is better at short stories (I haven’t read any of her others) as I don’t think the plot worked overall. It didn’t hold together in the final section – it just felt weird. She seems much better at writing realistically than bizarre – or perhaps that’s just what I prefer as a reader? I will read more of her books, but will probably wait until one receives rave reviews before doing so.

    1. She’s really at the cross roads of “real” and “bizarre.” At least, I think that’s where she’s at her best. And she’s at her best with shorter forms. Hers is an outlook that works best in smaller doses.

      1. I agree with you about the first part of the novel working much better than the rest.

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