Review: The First Bad Man by Miranda July

The First Bad Man is probably the most fucked up book that I have read for a long time. And if you just read that sentence and laughed, then there is an extremely good chance that this book will appeal to you. Alternatively, if you read that sentence, shook your head and thought that you do not want to read a book that is fucked up, then I recommend giving this one a miss.

The First Bad Man is a story about a group of highly dysfunctional and extremely self centred people who live in Southern California. Each seems to be pretending to themselves that they are searching for deeper meanings, while the truth is that they are all as stupid and selfish as each other. Our narrator is Cheryl, a socially awkward forty-something who works at a not-for-profit agency that offers women's defence classes. Cheryl believes that every baby she encounters is the reincarnation of a baby that she met when she was nine years old. She also believes that Phillip, a disgusting sixty-something who wants to have an affair with a teenager (but won't do so until Cheryl gives him her blessing,) has been her lover in many, many past lives. Cheryl is also quite gullible, allowing herself to be taken advantage of by practically everyone and everything. (At one point, she sees a chromotherapist who sells her a vile of liquid that he insists contains the essence of red, which will supposedly help with her throat troubles.) There are numerous other sections in the book where Cheryl is taken advantage of, however, the biggest plot twist comes in the form of Clee, the twenty-one year old daughter of her employers, who has a penchant for violence. Clee and Cheryl eventually bond over a consensual dominant/submissive relationship, which has a surprising outcome, and may just lead to Cheryl finding her much needed sense of self ...

I think that to enjoy this one, readers would really have to be in a certain mindset. Cheryl is ... well, it's uncomfortable reading about Cheryl. Just as it is uncomfortable reading about Phillip, and Clee. And snails. The snails were a bit uncomfortable too. And then there was the fact that I would have liked to have slapped Cheryl's employers repeatedly--Carl and Suzanne are proof that sometimes the most outwardly charitable people can really be the most inward and self centred. 

While there are some very accurate observations about human nature in here, but the journey is so excruciating that at times, it did not always feel worth it. 

Or maybe that was the point?


RuthB said…
Is that the cover? I like fucked up books but for your review I don't know if I would read it!

Kathryn White said…
It depends. I think the readers who will enjoy this one the most are the ones who are on the same wavelength as the author. Otherwise, the humour is a bit hit and miss ...

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