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The First Bad Man

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From the acclaimed filmmaker, artist, and bestselling author of No One Belongs Here More Than You, a spectacular debut novel that is so heartbreaking, so dirty, so tender, so funny--so Miranda July--readers will be blown away.

Here is Cheryl, a tightly-wound, vulnerable woman who lives alone, with a perpetual lump in her throat. She is haunted by a baby boy she met when she was six, who sometimes recurs as other people's babies. Cheryl is also obsessed with Phillip, a philandering board member at the women's self-defense non-profit where she works. She believes they've been making love for many lifetimes, though they have yet to consummate in this one.

When Cheryl's bosses ask if their twenty-one-year-old daughter Clee can move into her house for a little while, Cheryl's eccentrically-ordered world explodes. And yet it is Clee--the selfish, cruel blond bombshell--who bullies Cheryl into reality and, unexpectedly, provides her the love of a lifetime.

Tender, gripping, slyly hilarious, infused with raging sexual fantasies and fierce maternal love, Miranda July's first novel confirms her as a spectacularly original, iconic and important voice today, and a writer for all time. The First Bad Man is dazzling, disorienting, and unforgettable.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published January 13, 2015

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About the author

Miranda July

36 books3,085 followers
Miranda July (born February 15, 1974) is a performance artist, musician, writer, actress and film director. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California, after having lived for many years in Portland, Oregon. Born Miranda Jennifer Grossinger, she works under the surname of "July," which can be traced to a character from a "girlzine" Miranda created with a high school friend called "Snarla."

Miranda July was born in Barre, Vermont, the daughter of Lindy Hough and Richard Grossinger. Her parents, who taught at Goddard College at the time, are both writers. In 1974 they founded North Atlantic Books, a publisher of alternative health, martial arts, and spiritual titles. Miranda was encouraged to work on her short fiction by author and friend of a friend, Rick Moody.

Miranda grew up in Berkeley, California, where she first began writing plays and staging them at the all-ages club 924 Gilman. She later attended UC Santa Cruz, dropping out in her sophomore year. After leaving college, she moved to Portland, Oregon and took up performance art. Her performances were successful; she has been quoted as saying she has not worked a day job since she was 23 years old.

Filmmaking

Filmmaker Magazine rated her number one in their "25 New Faces of Indie Film" in 2004. After winning a slot in a Sundance workshop, she developed her first feature-length film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, which opened in 2005. The film won The Caméra d'Or prize in The Cannes Festival 2005.

Beginning in 1996, while residing in Portland, July began a project called Joanie4Jackie (originally called "Big Miss Moviola") which solicited short films by women, which she compiled onto video cassettes, using the theme of a chain letter. She then sent the cassette to the participants, and to subscribers to the series, and offered them for sale to others interested. In addition to the chain letter series, July began a second series called the Co-Star Series, in which she invited friends from larger cities to select a group of films outside of the chain letter submissions. The curators included Miranda July, Rita Gonzalez, and Astria Suparak. The Joanie4Jackie series also screened at film festivals and DIY movie events. So far, thirteen editions have been released, the latest in 2002.

At her speaking engagement at the Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco's Mission District on May 16, 2007, July mentioned that she is currently working on a new film.

Music

She recorded her first EP for Kill Rock Stars in 1996, entitled Margie Ruskie Stops Time, with music by The Need. After that, she released two more full-length LPs, 10 Million Hours A Mile in 1997 and Binet-Simon Test in 1998, both released on Kill Rock Stars. In 1999 she made a split EP with IQU, released on K Records.

Screen Writer

Miranda co-wrote the Wayne Wang feaure length film "The Center of the World."

Multimedia

In 1998, July made her first full-length multimedia performance piece, Love Diamond, in collaboration with composer Zac Love and with help from artist Jamie Isenstein; she called it a "live movie." She performed it at venues around the country, including the New York Video Festival, The Kitchen, and Yo-yo a Go-go in Olympia. She created her next major full-length performance piece, The Swan Tool, in 2000, also in collaboration with Love, with digital production work by Mitsu Hadeishi. She performed this piece in venues around the world, including the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

In 2006, after completing her first feature film, she went on to create another multimedia piece, Things We Don’t Understand and Definitely are Not Going To Talk About, which she performed in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York.

Her short story The Boy from Lam Kien was published in 2005 by Cloverfield Press, as a special-edition book.

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5 stars
6,443 (23%)
4 stars
9,467 (35%)
3 stars
6,973 (25%)
2 stars
2,818 (10%)
1 star
1,280 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,348 reviews
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 2 books3,222 followers
May 2, 2019
Oh my god this book is so totally weird and wonderful.

Reading this is kind of like watching an insane person dance. There's all these bizarre jerks and twists and feints that are completely implausible until they happen, and you open your mouth to protest but Miranda just says shh shh shh, it's going to be fine and somehow it is.

Despite being, plotwise, so bonkersly unlike anything you have ever thought of before, I don't mean to suggest that it's absurdist or surreal or Naked Lunch–ian or anything like that. It's normal people doing things that are only a beat or two off of normal; you just have to go with it, and then before you know it it has become perfectly reasonable and you're on to the next thing.

And in fact it is also an absolute astonishment of meticulous construction, one you don't even ever see coming. All the pieces fits so bizarrely & perfectly together—click, click, click, like they're magnetized.

I realize this is very vague and obfuscating but the book isn't coming out for like six months and I don't want to be a spoilery asshole. So here is a teaser list of things you will find in this book; I know it won't make much sense probably but oh well: role-playing therapists, appallingly selfish shirking of parental and grandparental duties, self-defense as fitness, globus hystericus, sexual-preference fluidity, May–December romances, a sort of two-person female Fight Club, a bucket of snails, simultaneous baby reincarnation, chromotherapy, the most awkward sex ever and also the most compellingly, disturbingly sexy masturbation fantasies.

Sorry, that's all you get. I loved this so so so much and you will too. Good luck with the wait. : )

Profile Image for christa.
745 reviews270 followers
January 21, 2015
Typically when I don’t like a buzz book I delight in mocking word choices and flimsy chapters or the thin line separating the novel’s plot and the author’s bio. The book becomes a contender for worst-of-the-year and I quietly, okay not-so quietly, dare someone, anyone to write something worse.

When I don’t like a book by Miranda July, my second inclination is to assume that there must be something wrong with me.

I adore Miranda July The Artist and all the weird shit that brews behind those slightly alarmed-looking eyes. I was with her that time she did that social experiment involving the Penny Saver and I was with her when she made the movie that included a talking cat. I downloaded her app (until I needed the storage space) and I subscribed to the Email Project.

But sometimes I’ll just be walking along and I’ll think of the short story from her collection “No One Belongs Here More Than You” that starred a woman who taught land-based swimming lessons in her living room and I’ll kind of shake my head because that one still doesn’t make sense and even kind of bugs me.

In July's "The First Bad Man," Cheryl is a socially awkward 40-something who works at a non-profit that has recently rebranded its self-defense how-tos as fitness videos. She quietly pines over a 60-something board member who is always saying asshole-y things to her, which she assumes is done in an ironic way. She’s honed her home life to a smoothly-run operation built around the optimization of her every movement. She understands that if things get lax, if dishes pile up, it’s the fast track to depression which ends with peeing in mason jars.

Phillip, the board member, seems to be returning her affections, but really he is just warming her up to confess that he has fallen in love with an underaged girl but that he hasn’t yet consummated the relationship and he won’t -- unless Cheryl gives the okay. As he waits for her to decide if it’s okay, he sends her status updates on the sexual side of things: The girl has been rubbed through the jeans. She’s held his stiff member. That sort of thing.

Meanwhile, Cheryl ends up sharing her home with Clee -- her bosses’ big blonde daughter who is supposed to be looking for work in Los Angeles. Things are a bit contemptuous on the Clee-to-Cheryl front, and eventually the former is waging physical attacks on the latter -- which Cheryl combats by turning these go-rounds into reenactments of the Open Palm video series. Then it starts to get pant-y between them -- though Clee’s foot odor is a bit of a bonerkiller.

Through all of this is a situation with a therapist who plays a receptionist as a twice yearly bit of role playing, and Cheryl is drawn to certain babies who speak to her on a cellular level. And there are the regular texts from Phillip, which she uses in her super rich fantasy life.

At first I was ambivalent. I’d moved past caressing the cover and dug in deep to find that … well, it wasn’t screaming to me every time I set it aside. Then I actively hated it for a while. This ugly period faded and I had a sort of-kind of renewed interest that morphed into something along the lines of This is a Book with Words in it That I am Reading For Now. The End.

In the meantime, everybody is loving this book. Lena Dunham posted a photo of herself holding a copy and she credited July with being “fresh.” New York Times likes it, though the reviewer sounds like she’s trying to convince herself along with Book Review readers, Boston Globe, AV Club, etc. To not like this book feels like an inadvertent admission of a character flaw. The opposite of a humble brag. It’s not July; It’s me.

Writing about this book and talking about it with other readers has made me question my own judgement. It sounds funny. You’re right Lena, it does sound fresh! There are great lines, there are interesting ideas about relationships and the characters are truly unique. It is, I believe, even pretty funny.

The problem: It’s not fun to read. The characters’ actions are nonsensical. The plot twists aren’t compelling. When a character gobbles at her placenta like it’s leftover spaghetti I rolled my eyes so hard I almost pulled a forehead vein.

I’ve defended July against this in the past, but this time it’s true: Quirky for quirky sake. The worst kind of quirky. I just didn't like it.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
465 reviews1,274 followers
February 17, 2015
The first BAD book by Miranda July...not sure as it is the first and last I'll read by her. Bizarre is a good way to describe it. The main character Cheryl - mid 40's - faces anxiety with disturbing sexual fantasies. She suffers from OCD and is mentally unstable. She is unlikable and the story is just plain weird. Three quarters through and no improvement. It's a hands down loser. Throwing this one in the abandoned pile.
Profile Image for lp.
358 reviews64 followers
November 23, 2014
WOW! I have never turned on a book so quickly in my entire life. When I started it I was in LOVE with its unique, odd hilariousness. But then shit got REAL weird. Fantasy sex stuff that wasn't interesting or funny at all. Just as I'd be about to give up, July would go back to her normal funniness about something totally mundane (the Japanese "customs" of her bosses, the therapist) and I'd remember how enjoyable she is when she's just developing characters. In the end, I was really touched by the characters. My response was surprisingly emotional.

People say they wish goodreads had half-stars. I wish goodreads had a "?" you could put after the stars. As in. I liked it—QUESTION MARK? Three stars?????

PS this is the last time I get psyched about a book 10% in.
Profile Image for Katie Parker.
136 reviews48 followers
January 15, 2016
Miranda July, you wonderfully weird creature. This book is probably one of the craziest things I've ever read, but it works, absolutely and completely. She crafts sentences that make you think the world was missing something until they were written. She finds genuine humor in the sadness, and poignancy in the mundane.

"I wondered how many other women had sat on this toilet and stared at this floor. Each of them the center of their own world, all of them yearning for someone to put their love into so they could see their love, see that they had it."

"If you were wise enough to know that this life would consist mostly of letting go of things you wanted, then why not get good at the letting go, rather than the trying to have?"

And, of course, it wouldn't be the same if I wasn't scarred for life by a piece of her work. (Has anyone else seen "Me and You and Everyone We Know"? Then you know what I'm talking about.) I really hope none of my fellow bus riders were reading over my shoulder during the odd, explicit sex parts. As uncomfortable as they often were to read, though, they were so often bookended by incredible passages that pulled me right back into the story.

In summary, it was amazing, though not without its cringeworthy moments. But they aren't cringeworthy because they are bad; they are cringeworthy because people are weird and flawed and real, and it's rare to see that in such a transparent way.
Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
531 reviews7,070 followers
February 20, 2015
"I've been meaning to buy that one myself,"

"Yeah I saw Lena Dunham gave it a good review so I had to pick it up!"

-The interaction between the lady behind the counter in Waterstone's and I when I bought this book.


The First Bad Man is a novel that has been hyped for months. Literally every single of those "Reads to Look Out For in 2015" lists has had this one near the top. I must admit that this is my first experience with July's writing. I know she has some short stories floating around somewhere so I'll catch them eventually. So, is The First Bad Man deserving of the hype? Yes. Or no actually. No, yes. Hmm. Maybe? Let's see.

We are presented with Cheryl Glickman, our protaginist. A woman who Dave Eggers called, 'one of the most original, most confounding and strangely sympathetic characters in recent fiction.' I have a feeling that Eggers has been diagnosed with a severe case of hyperbole here. In many ways, Cheryl reminded me of a highly neurotic version of the protaginist of Jenny Offill's brilliant short novel Dept. of Speculation, one of the best novels of last year. I've seen many review of this novel describing Cheryl as "quirky". God I hate that word. I refuse to ever use it. Cheryl is highly individual, eccentric, and idiosyncratic. She's Frances Ha and Annie Hall. She gets dumped with her boss' daughter, ninteen-year-old Clee, and this is where the novel tries to begin. Not only does Cheryl, a woman in her early forties, have to deal with a teenager claiming squatter's rights on her sofa, she is also kind of obsessed with Phillip, a man who is twenty years her senior. However, Phillip has other, Nabokovian, plans.

The first half of this novel middles along. It mainly concerns Cheryl's life and those around her. Nothing much happens. I might even go so far as to say the first half is boring. Well it isn't boring per se. To use Art Historical terms, the first half is Northern Renaissance and the second half is Rococo. The novel comes alive in the second half due to an event which inverts everything on its head. Suddenly you begin caring about the characters. You see their human side. It was in the second half that I really began enjoying this odd, odd novel. The plot is like that of the seminal classic Weird Science. At first it's great, partying with mid-1980s Kelly LeBrock but then you've got to deal with real issues. Like Bill Paxton being turned into a gigantic talking pile of shit.

This novel is definitely weird. It's different. There isn't a single sane character in there. It's like an episode of Kath & Kim but also not like that at all. Margaret Atwood meets Woody Allen in this novel but not in the way you want. So, can we answer the question now? Is The First Bad Man worth the hype? I say, yes. Yes because it is unlike any other novel I've read. Yes because it makes you laugh at the most inappropriate of things. Yes because of the phrase "mutual soaping". Yes because it is a realistic portrayal of life, no matter how zany. Yes. It is worth the hype.
Profile Image for Matthew Butler.
56 reviews7 followers
Want to read
February 12, 2015
Waited for weeks to get it at the library. Checked it out first day. Forgot it at The Mill. Remember leaving it on the bar. Enjoy the free discard, Mill person. I am the 2nd bad man.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,251 reviews49 followers
March 12, 2019
I read this one for a 21st Century Literature group read.

I am struggling to decide on the rating because it is such an odd quirky mixture of styles, and I loved some parts and hated others. On the whole there are just about enough positives to justify 4 stars.

It starts brilliantly - the 40-something single narrator Cheryl has a distinctive voice that is often very funny. Things then become pretty dark and claustrophobic as her relationship with her young lodger Clee becomes confrontational, but the last third of the book is a much more conventional story of the redemptive power of motherhood. July clearly revels in breaking taboos and surprising her readers, so it was a little strange to me that the ending was the most predictable part of the book.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,161 reviews9,011 followers
August 2, 2015
If you take a chisel and gently chip off the elaborate encrustation of florid psychology that at times sends this novel moonwalking towards the field of dreams that is bizarro fiction but really only up to its multihued verges and peeking across, then what I think you get is the plot of the 1966 Swingin’ London film Georgy Girl blended with the lunatic character swerves and switcheroos from any Iris Murdoch novel garnished with the sweet suburban Miss Lonely atmosphere of Miranda July’s own gorgeous movie Me and You and Everyone we Know. Or : if A M Homes and Miranda July went to a party dressed as each other no one would notice. Lorrie Moore, though, she’d be fuming (they’re wearing her dress but it looks sexier on them!), but you can’t copyright being really funny and sad about American suburbia.

There’s a Bad Sex in Fiction award given yearly by the (British) Guardian newspaper. Miranda July will not win. All the sex in this novel is bad, but it's deliberately very bad, wince-inducing, and there’s quite a lot of it. I will spare you the details but do not read most of this book while eating cereals, they may well go up your nose.

So as I was saying

Hey there, 42 year old Cheryl Glickman
Swingin' down the street so fancy-free
Nobody you meet could ever see the loneliness there - inside you
Hey there, 42 year old Cheryl Glickman
Why do all the boys just pass you by?
Could it be you just don't try or is it the clothes you wear?
Don't be so scared of changing and rearranging yourself
It's time for jumping down from the shelf


So she jumps or actually she’s kind of violently pushed by a strapping 21 year old blonde bombshell called Clee and …. Well, all the other reviews will tell you what happens then, or you could let MJ tell you herself. When I pick a novel to read I don’t want to know much about it except it’s supposed to be good.

It seems people have been dancing naked in the streets to celebrate the wonderful loveliness of this novel. Well, I wouldn’t go that far. I’d doff my overcoat and loosen my tie and say “yeah, pretty good” a few times. It was nice. It was in favour of people and it has an understanding that there are those who in the midst of a teeming planet live lonely lives. I kind of sort of maybe-ish well yes okay recommend this. If you don’t mind a lot of detailed bad sex and even more where the characters are thinking about the bad sex they want to have or have had. 3.5 stars.



Profile Image for Kevin.
Author 28 books35.4k followers
January 24, 2015
In her debut novel, The First Bad Man, Miranda July presents the story of a lonely 40-something woman named Cheryl Glickman. Cheryl looks at the world in her own hopeful and peculiar way. She fantasizes about an older man who is busy seducing a teenage girl, she tries to make psychic connections to a long-lost baby named Kubelko Bondy, and she has therapy sessions with a woman who is not really a therapist and is actually having an affair with the therapist Cheryl should be seeing. When Cheryl lets her bosses’ daughter, a young surly woman named Clee, move in with her, she takes on a person that she initially fears, but eventually loves and feels protective over. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that what happens between Cheryl and Clee makes The First Bad Man one of the strangest and most surprising novels of the year. The way Miranda July writes about the inner-life and longing of her characters is a thrill to read. It’s like she has a special kind of X-ray vision, where she can see the way her characters really think and act, and even when they’re weird or inappropriate, she still presents them to us unashamedly. And among their character flaws and their need to be loved, we, as readers, see ourselves.

Profile Image for Anita Pomerantz.
628 reviews91 followers
January 24, 2015
I feel the need to give prospective readers of this book a quiz.

Do you like HBO's Girls? YES NO
Do you think you would like HBO's Girls on steroids? YES NO
Do you generally appreciate black humor? YES NO
Do you like performance art? YES NO
What if that performance art came in the form of a book? YES NO

Score each Yes with 1 point. Make sure you score at least a 4 before proceeding.

Seriously, this book is simultaneously whacked out, hysterical, disgusting, and oddly moving.

Initially I thought the book was spoofing 50 Shades of Grade.

And then I thought it wasn't spoofing, but was actual porn.

Fortunately, that was just for one chapter.

The first half of the book and the last half are very different. The first half screams "look at me, look at me, I'm cool, I'm hip, I'm a performance artist writing a book." It also is very, very funny. It's entirely black humor. If you think it is serious, then you really won't like the book. I NEVER laugh out loud at books. Not books written by comedians, but there are some scenes in this one that definitely had me chuckling.

The second half is much more of a traditional novel and is more sweet and touching.

It's the combination of the two that probably convinced Amazon to recommend this as one of the best books of January. Trust me, you will think the editors lost their mind if you don't actually finish the whole book.

The book revolves around a woman, Cheryl, in her forties who is narcissistic and really hasn't grown up. She also is a little nutty in some of her belief systems . . .just a little on the fringe. Clee, the 20-something daughter of Cheryl's bosses, needs a place to live and moves in with Cheryl. The book revolves around the two women, but there are a number of sub plots that somehow in the end do actually connect together. They all made me feel a little dirty while reading them to be a little honest. But on some level, this train wreck of a first half barrels down the track to a touching second half, and I find myself reflecting back on the whole thing as a fun, very fresh, read.

I'm recommending this to exactly no one unless you pass the quiz above. Really.

Whatever you do, do NOT bring this book up as a suggested title for your face to face book club.
Profile Image for Sian.
3 reviews33 followers
March 3, 2015
I'll admit, I am kind of Miranda July's target audience, and perhaps my glowing review won't be particularly surprising. Other than her film The Future (like, I'm sure it's brilliant, but if I wanted to be super sad about cats I'd just go to my local pet shop) I've been into everything else she's ever done and this probably isn't a super impartial review so take this with a gain of salt of whatever.

This book somehow perfectly captures all the sad ugliness that exists in a mediocre life, specifically the mediocre life of a woman. The illogical magic that means when you finally forget someone or delete their number, they text you. The pathetic desperation of knowing you and a man have travelled through lifetimes together….while he's busy telling you about someone else. How easily it becomes to become stuck inside your mind, inside patterns. As the reader, I understood Cheryl's body as something ugly - not because it was or wasn't, but because of the way Cheryl moved through life inside it. The First Bad Man is hyperreality, but still reality. Some parts were desperately uncomfortable to read but mostly because they reminded me of an ugliness inside myself. Cheryl was pathetic, but not over-exaggeratedly so, and the way her mind worked was breathtakingly familiar to me. The way so many babies become Kubelko Bondy. The way that sex - masturbation - becomes ritualised, inaccessible, too big to control. An aggressive maternalism that repulses and juxtaposes itself. I feel like I'm seeing more and more of these ugly, internal, hyperreal, powerful//powerless women in literature of late and I for one think it's about f*cking time.

I kinda feel like those who don't get it probably aren't women trapped inside their own minds, with that pathetic, desperate ugliness inside of them. Good for them, I guess! Those who are should pick it up and find themselves.
Profile Image for Carina.
125 reviews40 followers
April 27, 2015
On a scale of 1 to 5, I'd rate it yellow. Or helicopter. It's likely perverse. It's probably clever. I'm a little too shell shocked to really be of any use with this review. If you do decide to read it, tell someone where you'll be and what time you'll be home.
Profile Image for R..
883 reviews111 followers
March 14, 2015
Well, I finished it and...huh.

I will say that July is a talented writer but...the characters. Each and every character (up to and including the preemie baby) was just simply creepy, got under my skin (a tip of the hat to July, I guess). I'm OK with creepy in a book (Lolita), but this was just overboard and, yes, very obnoxious ("Look at my wacky cast of dysfunctional characters! Don't you see yourself and everyone you know in their quirks and calamities?" July seems to be shouting...and puts the exclamation mark on the whole thing with Bowie's "Kooks" as incantation, anthem.)

Everything was going along swimmingly, hopefully, in the read until Cheryl (following a revelatory session with her creepy therapist) decided she was in a female Fight Club with Clee - and it went downhill from there. I was, like, really? It would have been interesting to read a feminist Fight Club short story, but July must've, I dunno, gotten pregnant at some point in the writing and wanted to share her homebirthing experience with the reader, share her observations of maternity, motherhood, or whatever.

I wanted more for Cheryl other than her life's plan being dictated by the poor choices of a psychotic houseguest (I never really got why the parents didn't just give Clee money to live on her own...I wanted to strangle Carl and Suzanne in every appearance...sic some of Marcellus Wallace's crew on Philip). Too bad July didn't. Want more for Cheryl, that is.

P.S. I can't believe George Saunders blurbed this novel. Eggers, yes, because a byline is a byline. Homes, yes, because her book (May We All Be Forgiven) is turning out to be just as creepy. But Saunders? Dude.


Prediction: This will probably be turned into an "independent" movie (or FX TV series) starring Kristen Schaal in a few years time.
Profile Image for Anndra Dunn.
Author 1 book24 followers
April 8, 2015
This is a book about Quirkily Insane and unlikeable caricatures doing Quirkily Insane and unlikeable things. Unfortunately the book wants you to root for its protagonist and this just isn't going to happen.

This was an exhausting read, maintaining a constant low-level unpleasantness. The authorial voice is arch and swithers between trying to present aspects of depression as slyly humorous - such as the protagonist explaining her system for managing her life, all going back to only having one set of dishes so that dirty dishes can't pile up and create a vicious cycle of depression - or attempting to evoke pathos, but the former is weak and the latter is plainly artificial given the contempt Miranda July shows for flaws of her absurd characters. Social dysfunction and anxiety is placed in the same category as a belief in crystal healing or eating kale with every meal. I couldn't help but compare it to something like Ali Smith's There But For The, which far more successfully combines absurdities and farce with genuine humanity.

Don't read this book.
10 reviews12 followers
July 9, 2014
Miranda July has such beautiful insights that resonate with one's sometimes secret inner thoughts. Like when she writes that she sits perfectly still while someone is talking about her because she "loves to be described". Or how she looks at babies to see if she has a secret connection with them that's stronger than that with their mother. These are the little things that can pass through the mind without a second thought, but here she brings them to a whole new level.

The characters have free reign to act on and explore all their deep impulses--they have let go completely of normal social rules. Things definitely get weird, as they would if anyone let their innermost, darkest parts of themselves guide their everyday lives.

July's writing is so unique. There is no one who has her voice, though there are a lot of imitators out there. I loved this book for its small moments and beautiful turns of phrase. That being said, the plot line and extremes of the story turned me off a bit. It just got too dark and strange for a book where the writing is quirky and funny. I'll always read whatever Miranda July puts out, but for me, short stories are her most pure and honest form.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,022 followers
October 26, 2015
This book is bizarre. I was talking about it with a librarian who had read this and her short stories, and he said something that I'm going to put here and possibly misquote. Quirky characters and strange situations are more tolerable in short stories, because they are in and out, you can marvel at them but not have to live with them; in a novel it can cause agony to the reader as you dive deeper into strange people making confusing decisions. Agreed, agreed. I would probably like July's short stories, and plan to read No One Belongs Here More Than You at some point. I'm not sure I would recommend this book to anyone.

On the plus side, I laughed a lot while listening to the audio. Miranda July reads her own novel in a perfect tone, with a practical straightforward voice that makes Cheryl come across the way she probably does in the world of the novel - a boring almost middle-aged woman on the outside and CRAZY on the inside. We are treated to an almost constant internal dialogue, of magical babies with the presence of Kubelko Bondy, of sexual fantasies that are anything but enticing, of the tolerance of horrible people that seem to surround her - inept therapists with imaginary specialties, bosses that are a flavor of "enlightened" plus an incredible variety of selfish that seemed actually pretty familiar to me, a man trying to get her approval to have sex with a teenager, and a teenager who lives in her house while physically abusing her and disrespecting her space. I'm not sure about your internal dialogue. There are certainly thoughts I have in my head that I wouldn't want shared, but Cheryl's internal life surpasses the absurd.

I notice a few people on my friends list abandoned the book, some were affronted by the sex, some couldn't take the forced quirky, but I wanted to make it to the end to see what happens.
Profile Image for Lolly K Dandeneau.
1,825 reviews231 followers
November 4, 2014
My brain is scrambled. This is the weirdest story I have read in years. The characters are all off their rocker, or maybe we are all just as strange deep down inside.
Cheryl is a bit disturbed and her hunger for Philip and the connections she sees with him are outlandish, so starts the novel as it spins madly into the strange and unusual. When her bosses need a place for their daughter Clee to live and chose her, her tight ship of a life will sink. Clee is a brutish knockout, in more ways than one. She will bring 'life' to Cheryl's dull existence and a love that she never knew she could have. There are so many moments of humor, outrageous behavior, obscene acts gathered in this story that may be overwhelming for light readers.
I was able to get my hands on an arc, and was not disappointed- it really is that unique and beyond quirky.
Profile Image for Snotchocheez.
595 reviews318 followers
March 29, 2015
Auteurs like the evidently multi-talented Miranda July generally don't receive much attention 'round these here parts, so I was thrilled that our little library got a copy of this...yet the curious generic black cover, the riotous blaze of colors on the inside front and back covers, and Ms. July's stay-away-from-me-and-my-book photo all seem to non-verbally yet overtly communicate THIS IS ART! in a way that makes me scoff dubiously.

Shouldn't have scoffed. She's got herself a new fan here in Alabama. The First Bad Man has just about everything one could ask for in a refreshingly weird, quirky-cool novel: girl-fights, bizarre sex, snails, Ojai, Japanese office etiquette, gender confusion, etc. etc. At its heart though, stripping away the strange, is just a lonely OCD lady trying desperately to find love, in the most unlikely manner possible.

Ms. July's debut (!) novel (and her supah freakay protag Cheryl Glickman) are certain to stay in my brain a good long while. Can't wait to read more from her.


(I'm teetering toward 5-star land on this one, but mah pea-brain didn't quite grasp the ending; If anyone can clue me in, please do. I'd really like to bump this one up!)
Profile Image for Steven Godin.
2,279 reviews2,145 followers
May 22, 2016
I must have been possessed by a bizarre ,self-loathing middle age women who has some pretty messed up sexual fantasies to get through this!, my God what on earth was going on here!, funny at times yes but in an oddball, screwed up way, and if Cheryl Glickman was not irritating enough what about Clee!, I guess half of me couldn't help but feel something for her, while the other half wanted to chuck her out the fucking window!. The first third was somewhat normal before sliding down a slippery slope drenched with a huge, orgasmic, creamy mess!, finally entering into a more tender and often quite sad affair. But I still respect Miranda July, because at least this did something that not many books have done before, it really got under my skin, and credits due to have the balls (or should that be labia!) to write something so sexually outrageous. Crazy or genius?, either way at least you cannot argue she stands out from the crowd.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,283 reviews635 followers
March 1, 2015
A crazy novel about an eclectic woman who lives in her head (and at times is confused with what actually is happening versus what is just her imagination) is the basis of Miranda July’s debut novel. This isn’t a novel for everyone, as it’s quite quirky. It’s easily readable, quirky, subtly funny, and fun; it’s just not mainstream.

Cheryl Glickman is a woman in her mid forties who is established in her ways. She has drawn order to her everyday existence to be most efficient. She works at a business that makes women’s self defense athletic videos. Her bosses ask (read force) her to take in their twenty-year-old daughter to live with her.

At this point, the book enters a truly bizarre realm. There’s some sexual sadist/masochist roll playing (which I found disturbing yet I kept reading), there’s a chromo therapist (only in California), and rebirthing (again, only in California). I truly loved Cheryl, as she is an odd duck and a great character. Her inner dialogue is a hoot, and I bet you can see yourself with some of these thoughts. The role-playing was a bit much for me and almost ruined the book.

And, it’s a “feel good” book as it ends well. It’s nice to know when you get the pleasure of reading a “feel good” book. It’s a quirky one and not one I’d recommend to the average reader, although it’s Amazon’s Best Book of the Month, January 2015. I’m glad I read it.
Profile Image for Robin.
473 reviews2,485 followers
June 17, 2016
A polarizing read. I went from complete and utter delight (OMG! is this ever FUNNY! Is this ever INSIGHTFUL. I need to mark all the amazing quotes and perfect word choices! I have a smile on my face just thinking about getting back to this book!) to disgust (OMG! is this ever obscene or what. Why did she have to go THERE. Would I keep on reading this if it weren't by Miranda July?).

No doubt, July is so talented. Parts, so hilarious, so true to human experience. She's so good at expressing what many of us have felt but has remained unmentioned. She also really showed the deep loneliness many people feel and what we do to feel connected. There is a magic in the unfolding of the plot. That is, IF you can somehow stomach the vile sexual interludes (of which there are many) and the pedophilia of Phillip (I just want someone to explain all of this part to me, why why why), the 'fight club' shenanigans with Clee, and the many unlikable characters. So bizarre, and I'm not sure I would recommend this book to anyone.

I will definitely be thinking about this for a while... but hopefully the nasty bits will fade and I will be left smiling about great lines like this:

"Dr. Broyard had Scandinavian features and wore tiny, judgmental glasses."
Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book1,636 followers
January 30, 2019
I didn't expect this novel, especially given the way it begins, to turn out to be a love story. I was surprised by it in so many ways, most of all for its exquisite depiction of human loneliness. Everyone is lonely in this story. Everyone tries to run away from the despair of their own lives by creating a script and playing parts they write for themselves and in which they are the hero, so that they can justify the most selfish and repulsive acts against others and to pretend for a while that they aren't lonely. Everyone, that is, except for Cheryl Glickman, who, however dysfunctional, is a self-aware human being. She is living her life. She is trying to understand her own humanity, as well as the humanity of those around her. By being true to herself, the most extraordinary love comes to her. The story is a giddy and at times nauseatuing mix of outrageous with mundane, exalted with grotesque, repulsive with tender.
Profile Image for Francesca Marciano.
Author 18 books245 followers
March 19, 2016
Honestly, I really don't know about this. I'm not sure what she wanted to do with this book. It's as if July tries too hard to be quirky and weird, and it's not fun anymore. This trying too hard becomes annoying. The plot and the characters didn't make sense and I couldn't care less for any of them. She lost me after the first ten pages and I'm not sure why I didn't abandon the book earlier. Probably the fact that I loved her films and her short stories so much. Disappointed.
Profile Image for Po Po.
170 reviews
September 12, 2016
I don't know whether to laugh or cry or scream at the top of my lungs as I ride a rainbow across the sky.

Sometimes a book just has "it" -- the connection that makes you feel as if the book is written especially for you.

It's one of those unputdownable books that puts the rest of the world on hold.

Of course there are quirky and endearing characters. And kinky shit (this IS written by the lady who came up with pooping back and forth forever.) But there's so much more.

It's an exploration of humanity at its most fundamental level: wanting to love and wanting to be loved.

It's a humbling journey of self-discovery and sexuality and loneliness and yearning and desperation and obsession and sweetness and motherhood.

It's a bold declaration that none of us are "normal" -- we are all deeply and truly flawed in one way or another -- but we are all lucky enough to exist in this beautiful and messed up world together in this infinitesimal moment in time.

* * *

+ "Rainbows are in their own class of spectacularity, every single one of them impressive, never a bleak rainbow, never with just some of the colors. Always all the colors and always in the right order."

+ "It must happen all the time, a fleeting passion overwhelms someone's true course and there's nothing to be done about it."
Profile Image for Brendan Monroe.
553 reviews147 followers
April 12, 2020
For as bad as 2020 has been on a global level, it has been the exact opposite for me as a reader. I have read some absolutely fantastic books this year (and very few bad ones), and it's only April!

Well, here at last in "The First Bad Man" we have a book that is as shitty as the year has been, in pandemic terms. A book that gives you real pause when asked, "would you rather knowingly expose yourself to a room full of people with the coronavirus, or force yourself to finish reading THAT book?"

And you thought Sophie had a tough choice to make!

Fortunately, no one gave me this ultimatum, because if they had, I'd probably have coronavirus now.

50 pages. That's how far I made it, and even that was an act of endurance worthy of Roald Amundsen. I was tempted, in a very dark moment, to keep reading, to push through, but I just knew beyond any doubt that in doing so I would have arrived at the end with the same crushing sense of disappointment that Robert Scott felt when he arrived at the South Pole five weeks late (a lot here for you South Polers tonight).

Actually, disappointment isn't the right word. Shame. Disgust.

Not Scott but Sacher-Masoch.

Reading this, even the first 50 pages, is like bathing in a cum-encrusted tub of your own regrets.

Do you see that? Can you picture it? I apologize for the visual, I just wanted to impart something of the revulsion I felt when reading this.

I went through all seven stages of reader's grief with this one.

1. Shock.

God, these characters are really unlikable. Even the protagonist, a middle aged woman who has bizarro sexual fantasies about a man 20 or so years her senior (and not in like a good, sexy, or funny way, but in like a weird way) is way out on the pathetic side of unlikeable. She's also insanely baby-obsessed. To the point of wanting to rip babies out of the arms of their mothers because she thinks she's got some kind of psychic connection with them (the babies, not the mothers).

2. Denial.

No, surely this can't be that bad ... Clee? This woman, Clee, you see, moves into our protagonist's home. She (Clee) is an absolutely pig. Filthy, disregarding all the most basic unspoken rules of etiquette, rude to our protagonist, the woman putting her up FOR FREE. It was a truly painful experience for me to have to read through, despite the fact that I wish nothing but death on the protagonist.

But, is this supposed to be funny? I mean, look at all these gushing blurbs!

What about this one, from Lauren Groff at The New York Times Book Review?

"Unlike anything I've ever read ..." (can't argue with that) "July is exceptional at tracing the imaginative contours of sexuality ..." (huh? you mean all those bizarro sexual fantasies?) "Hilarious ... Painfully alive."

Well, "painful" is definitely right ...

And YES, there were a LOT of ellipses in that blurb. I'm thinking that's because the reviewer actually HATED this book and the publisher had to "..." all the hate.

I better check Goodreads to see what people thought ...

3. Anger.

What the f**k is wrong with these Goodreads reviewers?? Some of them actually like this?? Alright, I am definitely going to make this book part of a new personality test.

"Have you read that horrible Miranda July novel? Did you like it? Yes? Goodbye!"

4. Bargaining.

Ok, maybe I just wasn't in the right mood for this last night. Now that I've had my morning coffee and taken my seat in the backyard, maybe this will strike me differently ...

"Mother of JFK, this is horrible!"

5. Depression.

I got this as a gift. Yes, a GIFT! What am I supposed to say when the gifter asks me, as she inevitably will, how I liked the book? (no, she's not on Goodreads ... thankfully) Do I tell her the truth?

"Sorry, I don't think we should be friends ..."

6. Testing.

I definitely don't want this very bad book in my shelf along with all my very good books, and since we're all locked in right now, what can I do with it? Do I just wait until this is over and go down to a used bookstore and trade it in?

Is it too warm outside for a bonfire?

7. Acceptance.

Really, I should have known to stop reading when I started formulating nasty things to say about this one as I read ... that was probably my first sign.
Profile Image for Toby.
827 reviews325 followers
February 26, 2015
Miranda July has produced a novel that is so Miranda July only fans of Miranda July could love it. Yes, it's got her character quirks, yes it's got some potentially inappropriate relationships, yes there are some quite bizarre moments and naturally there are some magical ways of seeing the world, especially the world experienced by Cheryl Glickman. But then almost out of nowhere she flips a switch and Cheryl starts to come of age in a pretty straight forward narrative of self discovery. Except it feels like it has evolved naturally from the strange little narrative you've already experienced, you'll believe a man really can make the sun rise with the tapping of a coin on a lamppost or a middle aged white woman can be soul mates with a pre teen black boy.

There were times when I was reading it as a response to 50 Shades of Grey, such is the honest and realistic representation of the exploration of female identity and sexuality that runs throughout but it is the way July explores her own feelings surrounding becoming a mother for the first time that makes the novel so interesting and moving to read. She seems to have such an interesting and unique way of representing the way she interacts with the world around her, it's inspired and influenced other artists who most of the time (including her husbands second film) just seem to appear like Miranda July-lite. She's a marmite artist and this is a marmite novel, it's love or hate and there's no real room for in between, unless perhaps you just "don't get it".
Profile Image for Danger.
Author 32 books615 followers
February 19, 2017
I am a big fan of Miranda July’s films (I loved You & Me & Everyone We Know) but I never dove into her fiction before. This book managed to evoke an ocean’s worth of heartache out of me, as what July manages to do is create characters that are so alien (and alienated) yet so emotionally real and resonant, it’s almost impossible to not empathize with them. And the truths she CONSTANTLY unveils, one after another like machine gun fire, are sometimes funny and sometimes sad, but they are always profound.

THAT SAID, the story does suffer a little bit in the second half, meandering a little too much for my tastes, and as the idiosyncratic main character starts to grow as a person, the oddness of this novel starts to level out.

THAT ALSO SAID, it wraps itself up quite nicely in the end, and left me satisfied. This is less of a novel and more of an experience; one that you’ll undoubtedly walk away from a better person. Good stuff.
Profile Image for Tyler Goodson.
171 reviews121 followers
April 27, 2015
Cheryl is a forty year old woman living alone until, suddenly, she isn't. Clee is the girl half her age who is the reason Cheryl doesn't live alone anymore. What happens when these two collide might shock, and will definitely amaze, as July shepherds us through the astoundingly weird to the stunningly humane. Sometimes I stopped reading to talk to myself out loud about how good this book is. It is really, really good, and it contains every kind of love. Cheryl thinks her story might not be a Great American Love Story for Our Time, but in Miranda July's hands that is just what it is.
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