The First Bad Man by Miranda July
Miranda July’s first book, No One Belongs Here More Than You, was a collection of short stories that, while not linked in the traditional ways through character or plot, was bound into a cohesive whole by its voice. Now, close to a decade later, she’s published her first novel, which slots in comfortably beside her short stories. July’s domain seems to be the weird side of the domestic in modern America, and her novel has the same unique voice again cast adrift in it.
The First Bad Man’s narrator, Cheryl Glickman, is in her early forties and, at the novel’s opening, is pining for Phillip, a man twenty years her senior who’s on the board of the company she works for, which sells exercise videos based on the art of self defence. She believes that she and Phillip have been together throughout all of time, from cave people, through the Renaissance and up to the present day.
Cheryl confesses this belief to him one night, during one of their long phone conversations, which Cheryl starts making to relieve the stress after her bosses, a husband and wife, move their 21-year-old daughter Clee into her apartment. It’s the antagonistic relationship between the two that forms the bulk of the novel, with the submissive Cheryl being both a host to, and afraid of, the domineering Clee. It would ruin the book to talk too much about how their relationship develops – suffice to say that the turns it takes are both hard to predict and keep raising the stakes. July’s ability to present us with the mundane and then surprise us is her forte, and it makes for a very funny and oddly heartfelt book.
Chris Somerville works for the online team at Readings.