The First Bad Man is the much-anticipated first novel of American multimedia artist Miranda July, following her 2007 short story collection No One Belongs Here More Than You. July’s story follows 40-something year old Cheryl Glickman, who lives alone and works for a company that produces women’s fitness/self-defence DVDs. At the most basic level, the novel is about how Cheryl’s neurotically regimented life is turned upside down when her boss’s 20-year-old daughter Clee comes to live with her. But what July has actually written is a complex, unconventional novel about love and motherhood that aptly reflects the changing ideas around parenthood and family which are happening right now.
July is an immensely talented writer, painting in the details of the weird and wonderful idiosyncrasies that people possess. Whether her characters bemuse, repulse or delight is entirely up to the reader. It is fair to say this is not a novel that will gel with everyone who picks it up; Cheryl’s mind is an uncanny place, and there are some very bizarre sexual fantasy scenes that could challenge even the most unflinching reader. But ultimately Cheryl is the most sympathetic, even lovable, character in the book. It is her quirks that make her relatable—keeping the absolute minimum amount of dishes in the house to avoid clutter; her generation-spanning connection with a baby she met when she was nine years old; her complete inability to fire the homeless man who turns up every week to tend to her garden. There might be nobody quite like Cheryl, but there is something everybody can recognise in her, especially her vulnerability and need for love.
I don’t want to give too much away. The twists and turns of the story are so odd and unexpected that it does a disservice to spoil them in a review. July’s prose is funny, poignant, honest and wise, often all at the same time. I found myself savouring the book, not wanting it to be over too quickly. I can say with surety that The First Bad Man is one of the most bizarre and unexpectedly beautiful novels I have ever read, and is definitely a stand-out book for 2015.
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