Reviewed By Jennifer Dupree, Circulation Supervisor at the Windham Public Library
When Miranda July’s “The First Bad Man” opens, Cheryl Glickman is in love with Phillip, even though Phillip is infatuated with an underage girl and wants Cheryl’s permission to have an intimate relationship with the young woman. Cheryl, who keeps her life small and rigid so that she won’t be thrown into chaos, is thrown into chaos by Phillip. And then by Clee. Clee, the daughter of Cheryl’s employers at Open Palm, a self-defense studio for women, is what Cheryl describes as a blond bombshell. Cheryl’s employers ask Cheryl to take Clee in and, even though she resists, she can’t really say no.
Clee is a terrible houseguest. She’s entirely disruptive to the systems Cheryl has put in place and maintained for her forty-some years. She’s lazy, angry, and her feet stink. And then their relationship worsens as Clee begins to physically attack Cheryl and Cheryl, after therapy, starts to fight back. This novel is incredibly physical. July renders every aspect of the body viscerally. It’s impossible not to feel this book physically and then to feel it emotionally.
I don’t want to give too much away, but Clee and Cheryl’s relationship takes a turn, and then another. I loved the cadence of this book—the way things happened and didn’t happen, the consequences and regrets. Everyone moves outside her comfort zone, everyone makes mistakes. There’s happiness and sadness.
This is a beautiful novel about unexpected friendship, about finding yourself, about being true to yourself. It’s about identity and longing and loss and letting go. It’s also absurdist in places and, because of that, wickedly funny.