book review: The First Bad Man

bad man

The First Bad Man By Miranda July.
Scribner| January 2015.|276 pages |$25.00| ISBN: 978-1-4391-7256-8

Rating: **/5*

It’s the time for celebrities to publish books. Current celebrity authors saturate the children’s book market. Not even sure how anyone who isn’t a celebrity will possibly be able to publish a children’s book. There are children’s books by Julianne Moore, Tori Spelling, Jessica Lange, Whoopi Goldberg, Katie Couric, Tiki Barber, Jamie Lee Curtis, Russell Brand, Jim Carrey, Beth Stern, Queen Latifah and Renaissance man Steve Martin. Noteworthy memoirs by celebrities also plentiful. My bedside table TBR pile: Yes, Please by Amy Poehler; There Was a Little Girl by Brooke Shields, Redefining Realness by Janet Mock and Not that Kinda Girl by Lena Dunham.

Miranda July’s film The Future ranked on my best films of 2011. I found it bizarre, amusing wistful existentialism. Unfortunately the wonderfully creative feminist filmmaker/performance artist falls short with her debut novel. Incidentally I didn’t like July’s short-story collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You either. Suppose I shouldn’t be surprised I didn’t click with this novel. However I’d started off quite hopeful.

At first, I liked The First Bad Man. It was dark, sad and complex –“Once Carl had called me ginjo, which I thought meant “sister” until he told me it’s Japanese for a man, usually an elderly man, who lives in isolation while he keeps the fire burning for the whole village.” The novel then crossed over a peculiar threshold and I no longer cared about any of it. It’s too weird and it’s as if she’s trying too hard to shock and to reveal the dark and bizarre. This is practically unreadable. I generally enjoy reading traditionally unlikable and unsympathetic characters. Unfortunately a huge disappointing miss.

Cheryl Glickman lives alone and hasn’t had a relationship in a while. She works from home for a women’s self-defense nonprofit. She dresses terribly and has even worse taste in men. 45-year-old Cheryl has a crush on Phillip, a board member and major donor, 20 years older than her. Some lines seem more film-like than novel-esque but are good. They’re just few and far between. In describing Phillip: “He drove like he lived, with entitlement, not using the blinker, just gliding very quickly between lanes in his Land Rover.” Phillip thrills Cheryl beyond description when he begins texting her and seeking her out. However it’s because he wants advice on how to pursue a relationship with a 16-year-old. “ Cheryl might be a hybrid of this lonely women and July herself. Write what you know and all. She suffers from a chronically restricted throat. metaphor for her inability to speak up, speak out and live her real truth. Phillips recommends his colourist who suggests a psychotherapist. “Therapy is for couples. So is Christmas. So is camping. So is beach camping.”

Cheryl lives a fairly quiet and isolated life until her bosses’ beautiful but brazen 20-year-old daughter Clee moves in with her. They don’t get along at all. Clee stays up all night watching TV. She’s a slob and Cheryl utilizes a very particular system for her various possessions and living spaces. She and Clee spontaneously begin acting out self-defense scenarios which simultaneously turns Cheryl on and loosens her throat. Maybe it’s the empowerment or the connection. July writes: “Our first tussle under the new agreement had been long and dirty and had taken us into all the rooms of the house. I can-canned and popped, not just to defend myself but out of real anger, first at her and then at people like her, dumb people.”

During an interview with All Things Considered on January 11 when asked she decided to write a book, Miranda July replied: “I love a challenge. There’s nothing that gets my heart going like the sense that I will fail. This was one of the last one’s left. And such an obvious one. ‘You’ve written short stories, you’ve written movies, can you write a novel.’ She also semi-considered if Scarlett Johansson were too old to play Clee until she realized she was writing a novel not a screenplay. So great Miranda July, check something else off the to-do list. I prefer you stick to screenwriting. Perhaps novels are more lucrative these days than indie film. And that’s unfortunate.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Simon and Schuster.

purchase at Amazon: The First Bad Man: A Novel

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