According to the Internet, I’m the odd person out when it comes to Miranda July’s The First Bad Man. I scanned reviews that called it “heartbreaking” “brilliant” and one of “the best books of the year.” I started to wonder if there was something wrong with me.
Because I hated this book. HATED this book. For me at least, The First Bad Man is some twee hipster nonsense masquerading as something deep that like says stuff man, about our society. It’s too outrageous to be taken seriously, and too far up its own ass to be interesting.
Cheryl Glickman is a sadsack, gawky woman in her early 40s. She desperately in love with Phillip, and thinks they must have been lovers in previous lives including in the Middle Ages and the 1940s. Philip is only interested in texting her about the 16-year-old he’s trying to bang because age ain’t nothing but a number. She works for a nonprofit women’s self-defense studio that makes its money selling fitness DVDs. She also believes that she is destined to be the mother of someone she calls “Kubelko Bondy” whose spirit occasionally pops up in other babies who stare at her forlornly because they belong to other women.
Everyone walks all over Cheryl so it’s no surprise when her bosses dump their 19-year-old daughter on her. Clee destroys the elaborately constructed life Cheryl has built in her head. She’s lazy with terrible hygiene, an insatiable appetite for television and physically violent (great tits, though). Obviously Cheryl falls in love with her. They share their love through a weird lady Fight Club where they reenact the fistfights they see in the self-defense DVDs.
I occasionally saw flickers of what the other reviewers praised, like July’s points about the weird things all humans do but never admit. But it keeps devolving into a wink to the reader-“aren’t I quirky?” A therapist who occasionally masquerades as a receptionist is interesting. Her insistence that her patients pee in a Chinese takeout carton in her office is not.
It’s not that this is the worst book I’ve ever read. I’ve read some real stinkers. But most bad books know they’re not good. 50 Shades of Grey and that Nicholas Sparks books know they’re junk. Bad books can be fun from time to time, but only if they know they’re bad. This book was just obnoxious. Look at my dysfunctional cast of characters, guys! Aren’t they just craaaaaaaaaazy?!
Seriously don’t read this book unless you’re an undergraduate philosophy student trying to impress the girls in your dorm. Or if you have a medical condition and want to jack up your low heart rate by getting furiously angry with the stupid book. Everyone else, give it a hard pass.