Wednesday 26 August 2015

The First Bad Man

I admire Miranda July, she is just so unpredictable. I reviewed her stories way back at the beginning of my blogging days, and her film, 'You, Me and Everyone We Know', a couple of years later. When I came across a mention of her most recent book I rushed to the library website and acquired a copy. It came to Edinburgh with us but was ignored, so I finished it over the last week.
'The First Bad Man' is an incredibly intense emotional tale, a love story, in so many senses of the word. Cheryl is a woman tied in knots, both physical and metaphorical, full of repressed passion and unspoken desires. With a weird hyper-controlled lifestyle and very little apparent social contact outside her work for a women's self-defence charity she still manages to be profoundly sympathetic and identifiable. When she is obliged to offer a temporary home to Clee, the wayward daughter of her boss, life begins to spiral out of her control. But at the same time as being utterly disruptive Clee also opens Cheryl up to all sorts of interesting new experiences, and, as a very strange relationship develops between them, to find a weird way of releasing some of her pent-up neuroses. 

"I stomped down on the gas pedal and the mini ATV jumped forward, roaring up the next block. The noise shook everything out of my head. What a magical way to get around. I'd always thought of these types of machines as toys for uneducated people who didn't care about the environment, but maybe they weren't. Maybe this was a kind of meditation. I felt connected to everything and the motor volume held me at a level of awareness I wasn't used to. I kept waking up and then waking up from that, and then waking up even more. Was everything redneck actually mystical? What about guns? I turned around. Clee and Kate were very tiny but I could see them, wildly gesticulating for me to come back. I tried pushing down all the way on the gas. In an instant I was zooming toward them and they were running out of the way, screaming." (p.103)

Some small spoilers. 
While Cheryl is goes to a therapist to try and sort out her obsession with Philip, one of the charity board members, Clee finds herself pregnant and their relationship takes a new turn as the baby becomes a focus of attention. Here, at the hospital, she encounters the couple whom Clee has chosen to adopt the baby. I love the casual intensity of her reaction to them:

"She looked older than her picture on, both of them did. They reeked of their house back in Utah, it's old carpets suffused with cigarette smoke. This would be the smell of his life, of him.
'Is it?' Gary said. 'Is it too late - legally?' He was scared. He really did not want the car the had bought. 'Yes it is', she said. Then she gave him look like Lets not talk about this in front of that woman. They were terrible people, even slightly worse than most. I stalled, fumbling with the sleeves of my gown. Should I introduce myself or try to kill them? Not violently, just enough that they wouldn't exist. Amy gave me a polite nod as they exited. I nodded back, watching the door swing shut." (p.186)

I loved Cheryl because she is a woman who seems on the surface to be so broken, and yet she has such resilience, picking herself up after numerous heartbreaks and finding new people to love. Miranda July presents us with some very weird situations and relationships, but makes them into real people, you can't help but be draw into their world. And I love too the way that minor characters pop up in unexpected ways and become more significant than you anticipate. A novel, and writing, that is quite unlike anyone else's.

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