Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

"The first bad man" by Miranda July (Canongate, 2015)

It's perhaps easiest to read it as comedy. Cheryl, 43 years old, the 1st-person character, has fancied Phillip, 22 years her senior, for years. He at last invites her to his place for a meal. He has something important to tell her - he's fallen in love with a 16 y.o. girl. Have they had sex? Phillip says "Well, I want to, and she wants to - but the attraction is so powerful that we almost don't trust it. Is it real or is it just the power of the taboo? I've told her all about you and our relationship. I explained how strong you are, how you're a feminist and you live alone, and she agreed we should wait until we got your take on it" (p.47).

The company she works for produces self-defence DVDs, which might explain her role-playing tendencies. Cheryl discovers that her two therapists are in a relationship, that they role-play too. She lets a colleague's daughter, Clee, stay with her. Clee disrupts her careful routines. They role-play scenes than involve violence. Cheryl fantasises the sex fantasies that she thinks Phillip has, playing the male. She's offered a place on the board by Clee's parents, to replace Phillip who's mysteriously disappeared. Clee becomes pregnant, wants a home-birth, wants to give the baby for adoption.

After the birth, Clee decides to keep the baby. Clee and Cheryl begin a physical relationship and Cheryl becomes a co-mother. Clee's parents aren't happy with the inappropriate relationship and demote Cheryl. When baby Jack is 7 months old, Clee leaves by mutual consent. Then Phillip turns up.

Along with the comedy there are passages of inspired writing, as on p.38-39, p.153, and p.162 when a one-dollar bill is used during childbirth.

Other reviews

  • Laura Miller (Nearly everyone in the novel justifies their capricious narcissism with the lingo of self-actualisation, all while treating the lonely Cheryl as either a convenience or an encumbrance. ... It’s true that if you dig deeply enough, you can find something bizarre about almost anyone. When, however, the focus for nearly 300 pages is on a relatively small cast, the multiplying weirdness becomes unamusing absurdity)
  • Lauren Groff (Challenging work tends to incite readerly resistance, and I’d bet that “The First Bad Man” will not be exempt from this rule. ... The book ends in precisely the way any perceptive reader who reaches Page 8 would predict. By then, the novel’s conventional shape has neutralized some of its early strangeness and potency. The story is a smaller one than it promised early on.)

No comments:

Post a Comment