The First Bad Man by Miranda July
276 pages | Purchase @ Barnes & Noble
It’s been a long time since it’s been physically uncomfortable to finish a book. By physically uncomfortable, I really mean that my emotions are so all over the place that they’re manifesting themselves as thought I’m experiencing some slight anxiety and a fair amount of sadness. And joy. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised that this is the state that I am in at the end of this novel as I always feel this way at the ending of anything Miranda July creates.
Some people may not WANT to feel this way, but, honestly, I welcome it. I value this feeling as a sign that I was truly touched by the characters and the journey that I shared with them. Not only did I get to crawl inside of them to feel what they’re feeling, both the good and the bad, but I was also able to sit fully outside of them as a spectator to the events comprising their daily lives.
One aspect of Miranda July’s art (whether it be her novels, film, or performances) that I adore so much is that she captures life so perfectly. The beauty of life isn’t in one single type of experience or a perfect, flawless moment, but it is a culmination of our awkward interactions, happiness, love, pain, loss, the mundane, the disgusting, connecting with other people, connecting with ourselves, and everything in between. She doesn’t shy away from this and, even in a scene of loss and sadness, the beauty shines through.
The First Bad Man is narrated by Cheryl, a woman in her 40s who lives alone and exists within her own eccentric world. She once felt a connection with the soul (Kubelko Bondy) of a young baby and periodically reconnects with Kubelko Bondy, but only ever in passing. Cheryl’s entire world is changed by a brief cohabitation with a young woman named Clee. Together, they explore their boundaries and bring us along with them through the hilarity, the (sometimes) uncomfortable fantasies, life, and loss. Through this experience, Cheryl’s life is completely changed; she finds a strength that we don’t get to see her embody at the beginning of the novel.
A few additional quotes from the story that I am particularly fond of:
“A bag of blood was rushed in; it was from San Diego. I’d been to the zoo there once. I imagined the blood being pulled out of a muscled zebra. This was good – humans were always withering away from heartbreak and pneumonia, animal blood would be much tougher, live, live, live.”
“Every night my plan was to make it to dawn and then feel out the options. But that was just it – there were no options. There had been options, before the baby, but none of them had been pursued. I had not flown to Japan by myself to see what it was like there. I had not gone to nightclubs and said ‘Tell me everything about yourself’ to strangers. I had not even gone to the movies by myself. I had been quiet when there was no reason to be quit and consistent when consistency didn’t matter.”
“These exotic revelations bubbled up involuntarily and I began to understand that the sleeplessness and vigilance and constant feedings were a form of brainwashing, a process by which my old self was being molded, slowly but with a steady force, into a new shape: a mother. It hurt. I tried to be conscious while it happened, like watching my own surgery. I hoped to retain a tiny corner of the old me, just enough to warn other women with.”
The ending of this novel feels like the loss of a loved one. I want to crawl back into the pages (or, in this case, my Nook app) and hang out with Cheryl for a little bit longer. She made me laugh. Her story, at times, made me want to cry. From beginning to end, I wanted to give her a hug. I am now in one of those rare circumstances where I want to continue reading and starting in on another novel, but my heart is going to need a few days to get over this one.
My subject mentioned something about a love letter for Miranda July — basically, if Miranda July were to ever stumble across this page, or my face on the street, I would, ultimately, want to adequately convey that her art speaks directly to my heart. I hope that she writes many more novels, short stories, films, and whatever else she desires to create.