Since I’ve been slacking on my reading time so far this year, but sometimes listen to podcasts while I work on art and design projects, my friend suggested I listen to audiobooks to keep with my book goals. And so here we are! Shout-out to the library for having a great digital collection that I can access with a few different apps.
Miranda July is a bit of a pickle for me: some of her works I love (ie, Me and You and Everyone We Know), but a lot of it I really don’t like at all: or at least, I just don’t get it. But there is always something there that I find intriguing, if not ultimately effective or fully developed.
Unfortunately, this one was not a winner for me. I’ll admit that I’m not used to audiobooks as of yet, and I didn’t really like the manner in which July told it—for example, how she put on a voice for any character that wasn’t the protagonist, but it was always the same sort of deep, husky imitation of a typical male voice—so that could have been a big factor in my dislike of this novel. However, I think in terms of the story and characters, that was just one of a few faults that kept me from really engaging with this book.
The First Bad Man follows a woman named Cheryl, who has a strict manner of living in her home, is hopelessly infatuated with a co-worker who she believes was her lover in many past-lives, lets people walk all over her, and is constantly searching for the soul or psychic link of a baby she connected with as a child in other babies she sees in her daily life. In short, she is odd, has peculiar thoughts, and a peculiar life. All of this, however, is thrown for a loop when a co-worker’s 21-year-old daughter, Clee, ends up living with Cheryl as she has nowhere else to go. Their relationship is strained, and soon takes on a bizarre, ritualistic life of its own, with the two enacting fights with one another what become very intense and sexual in nature. Cheryl is also grappling with a relationship with a new therapist, and the fact that the man she believes is her long-lost love of her past-lives is seeking her blessing to have a sexual relationship with a teenager. So despite seeming like a small, contained story about a contained woman and her feelings and experiences, this whole thing really is a lot.
In any case, there is something to be said about the intimacy with Cheryl’s thoughts that present themselves in this novel: we see her grappling with ideas and thoughts that maybe people don’t want others to know that they have, but also reassuring the reader that no, it’s not uncommon to have strange thoughts and behaviors that you don’t want to admit to anyone else. There is an element of feeling seen and unjudged in whoever you may be and whatever you might do in your private moments. But beyond that I can’t help but feel like some more graphic elements were included to be… not per say shocking, but maybe a little edgy? Like, oh dear reader you didn’t think we would go there but we sure did!
So overall, I did not enjoy the experience of this novel on a few levels, though there was potential to it, and a few moments that grabbed me. Despite this, however, it felt like this book was desperately trying to say something but I just couldn’t figure out what that was. Oh well, maybe next time.