The First Bad Man

The First Bad Man

by Miranda July

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Overview

The New York Times bestselling debut novel from Miranda July, acclaimed filmmaker, artist, and author, whose new movie Kajillionaire is in theatres now.

Cheryl Glickman believes in romances that span centuries and a soul that migrates between babies. She works at a women’s self-defense nonprofit and lives alone. When her bosses ask if their twenty-year-old daughter, Clee, can move into her house for a while, Cheryl’s eccentrically ordered world explodes. And yet it is Clee—the selfish, cruel blond bombshell—who bullies Cheryl into reality and, unexpectedly, leads her to 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.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Lauren Groff

Cheryl is the protagonist of Miranda July's very funny debut novel…and she's such an acute observer that her life is never as pathetic to the reader as it appears to the people around her…Miranda July is not after perfection: She loves the raw edges of emotion, she likes people and things to be a little worn. Life isn't silky, July is saying. The snags and the snafus bring the joy…The First Bad Man…makes for a wry, smart companion on any day. It's warm. It has a heartbeat and a pulse. This is a book that is painfully alive.

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

The first novel by the filmmaker and artist Miranda July is like one of those strange mythological creatures that are part one thing, part another—a griffin or a chimera, perhaps, or a sphinx. The novel starts off tentatively, veers into derivative and willfully sensational theater-of-the-absurd drama—part Pinter, part Genet—and then mutates, miraculously, into an immensely moving portrait of motherhood and what it means to take care of a child.

Publishers Weekly

08/25/2014
July (No One Belongs Here More than You) successfully transitions from short stories to her first novel, introducing eccentric 40-something Cheryl Glickman in a tale about role-playing. In addition to sexual fantasies featuring her senior co-worker Phillip, unmarried Cheryl also imagines a perennial connection with babies. Her world is flipped upside down when Clee, her boss’s 20-year-old daughter, moves in until she can get on her feet. Cheryl’s fantasies soon involve Clee with any man that passes by, and she becomes aroused when Clee plays along with self-defense scenarios. When Phillip starts a relationship with a 16-year-old girl, Cheryl grows closer with Clee, switching between roles as her enemy, sparring partner, mother, grandmother, aunt, and girlfriend. Other characters give, or refuse to give, their own performances, including Clee’s parents, who refuse to act as grandparents when she gets pregnant, and Cheryl’s therapist, who plays mistress to the other office doctor. Cheryl and Clee’s simulated fights in the first half will remind readers of July’s peculiar short-story style, but the book hits its stride in the second half when Cheryl helps Clee through her pregnancy. July’s writing is strange and beautiful, with enough cleverness woven into the characters’ strange fantasy lives to keep readers contemplating the family roles and games adults undertake. (Jan.)

Mark Costello

Miranda July has created in her stories and here in her amazing debut novel something close to a new literary genre. If science fiction speculates on new technologies in human life, July imagines new emotions that have never been described. Anger is erotic. Pleasure feels like fear. Sex dynamites everything around it. And yet we can’t stop having it. Not since David Foster Wallace has a writer so hilariously captured the wince-worthy adventures of the awkward human beings we all pretend we aren’t.

Elle Molly Langmuir

Lovelywriting is interspersed with outer-space levels of strange…yet gradually thiscatalog of the grotesque builds into something beautiful, and this deeply oddbook abruptly becomes transcendent. It feels like being on a plane when ittakes off—all that rattling, speed, and oil, and then suddenly:airborne.

Andrew Solomon

With The First Bad Man, Miranda July provides an audaciously original, often hilarious map of the ever-expanding reach of unhinged imagination in America. With IMAX-scale emotional projections, a post-gay regimen of sexual fantasies, and a cast of riveting misfits worthy of Kurt Vonnegut, July takes us on a picaresque journey in which the heroine's ultimate challenge turns out to be a stunningly ordinary circumstance more transfixing than all the virtual caprices a 21st-century mind can muster.

The Buffalo News Jeff Simon

If you were searching around fora representative creative artist for the middle of the 21st century’s seconddecade, you could do a lot worse than 40-year-old Miranda July. She’s anactress, a filmmaker, a performance artist, a conceptual artist, an APP, ashort story writer and now, finally with this book, a novelist… she is a fresh,feminist, groundbreaking, creative sensibility who should probably be treatedin entirety, if at all…Love, perverse if not polymorphous, is the basic subjecthere, although other subjects include everything from self-defense tolactation. Her literary voice is lively enough to be compulsive here.

Jayne Anne Phillips

July is brilliant, hilarious, irreverent, piercing—even cringe-inducing, powering past sexual boundaries and gender identification into the surprising galaxy of primal connection. ‘We all think we might be terrible people. But we only reveal this before we ask someone to love us. It is a kind of undressing.’ Is there a more hopeful statement about humankind? In Miranda July’s strange universe, probably not.

Hilton Als

Miranda July's first novel announces something new, not only in its invention, characterization, and pace, but emotional truth. With it, the esteemed artist and filmmaker joins the front rank of young American novelists—and then surpasses them.

Los Angeles Times Margaret Wappler

Miranda July — filmmaker, performanceartist and now novelist — is ready to leave the old Miranda July behind. Youknow the one: The curly haired gamin, her impossibly blue eyes swirling withideas. The irrepressible creative blowing cinematic kisses to the world…The First Bad Man is about to complicatethe picture. Striking and sexuallybold, it reveals a side that is darker and that, truth be told, has lurked inher work all along…Though TheFirst Bad Man actively challenges a reader's comfort zone, July creates afemale neurotic archetype that's familiar and fresh at once.

Interview Christopher Bollen

Risky fiction: hilarious, dark,uncomfortable, and so accurate in mapping the way fantasies can overtake lifethat it’s also one of the most honest character studies I’ve read in a longtime…when pregnancy and an infant are introduced in the second half of the book,imagination and fantasy life are replaced with very real anguish, protection,and love.

The Miami Herald Kit Reed

Love comes in a dizzying numberof shapes and sizes, Miranda July demonstrates in her stunning first novel…Julyis a brilliant stylist, and better yet, she’s funny…darkly comic, astonishing…thisbook couldn’t be better.

Dave Eggers

"Cheryl Glickman, Miranda July's heroine in this unforgettable novel, is one of the most original, most confounding and strangely sympathetic characters in recent fiction. She narrates this very intimate epic of a story — a story that starts in a place of brittle, quirky, loneliness and progresses into a profoundly moving story of nontraditional love and commitment. This novel is almost impossible to put down, and confirms July as a novelist of the first order."

The AV Club Josh Modell

The First Bad Man is the first great book of 2015… July’s work istied together by her singular, confident, multifaceted voice. Her charactersare often unusual and under-confident; her writing is always the former andnever the latter. The First Bad Man,July’s debut novel, tells the story of an outwardly boring person whoseinterior life is a mosaic of delightful neuroses and staggering self-doubt... beautifully worded, emotionally complex,impressively but quietly insightful, and, in the right light, so, so funny.

From the Publisher

July’s work reminds us that the essential storytelling tool is voice. Hers is smart, funny, twisted, vulnerable, humane, and reassuring: a dazzling human consciousness speaking frankly and fondly and directly to you. If I ever start to doubt the power of language and intelligence, I only have to read a few lines of July to have my faith restored.”
-George Saunders, author of Tenth of December

“Miranda July's first novel announces something new, not only in its invention, characterization, and pace, but emotional truth. With it, the esteemed artist and filmmaker joins the front rank of young American novelists—and then surpasses them.”
-Hilton Als, author of White Girls

“Miranda July's ability to pervert norms while embracing what makes us normal is astounding. Writing in the first person with the frank, odd lilt of an utterly truthful character, she will make you laugh, cringe and recognize yourself in a woman you never planned to be. By the time July tackles motherhood, the book has become a bible. Never has a novel spoken so deeply to my sexuality, my spirituality, my secret self. I know I am not alone.”
-Lena Dunham, author of Not That Kind of Girl

“With The First Bad Man, Miranda July provides an audaciously original, often hilarious map of the ever-expanding reach of unhinged imagination in America. With IMAX-scale emotional projections, a post-gay regimen of sexual fantasies, and a cast of riveting misfits worthy of Kurt Vonnegut, July takes us on a picaresque journey in which the heroine's ultimate challenge turns out to be a stunningly ordinary circumstance more transfixing than all the virtual caprices a 21st-century mind can muster.”
-Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon and Far from the Tree

“Miranda July's exciting and wild novel The First Bad Man begins deeply, absurdly funny, gets increasingly twisted and strange, and then ends quietly, urgently heartfelt. It is a novel about aging, about motherhood, about sex, about weird wounded women—yes—but it is really a novel about the desperate possibility in all of us to love and be loved. The First Bad Man is like no other novel you will read this year (or any other year).”
-Dana Spiotta, author of Innocents and Others

"Cheryl Glickman, Miranda July's heroine in this unforgettable novel, is one of the most original, most confounding and strangely sympathetic characters in recent fiction. She narrates this very intimate epic of a story — a story that starts in a place of brittle, quirky, loneliness and progresses into a profoundly moving story of nontraditional love and commitment. This novel is almost impossible to put down, and confirms July as a novelist of the first order."
-Dave Eggers, author of The Circle

“The ‘yes, that’s really the way it is!’ moments in this book came so fast and furious that I found myself page-turningly propelled into a story that, despite its subtly off-kilter course, somehow — I don’t know how — ended up revealing the invisible and depthless emotional reality that roils and tugs beneath us all. Miranda July’s protagonist inhabits this uncharted world of unspeakable desires, embarrassing hopes and shifting conquests more fully than any in contemporary fiction I can recall, and you will inhabit it right along with her. You will also inhabit her. And she, you. The First Bad Man is a strange miracle of a book, and despite the opinion of its main character, a truly great American love story for our time.”
-Chris Ware, author of Building Stories

“I am in awe of Miranda July. She is the person I want to be, the artist who feels free to work in any number of media, the artist who is so talented, expressive. The First Bad Man is a book that must be read, a book that must be purchased – in duplicate – one for you, one for a friend. Don’t think you can loan this book – you’ll never get it back.”
-A. M. Homes, author of May We Be Forgiven

“Miranda July has created in her stories and here in her amazing debut novel something close to a new literary genre. If science fiction speculates on new technologies in human life, July imagines new emotions that have never been described. Anger is erotic. Pleasure feels like fear. Sex dynamites everything around it. And yet we can’t stop having it. Not since David Foster Wallace has a writer so hilariously captured the wince-worthy adventures of the awkward human beings we all pretend we aren’t.”
-Mark Costello, author of Big If

“Very funny... The novel exploded my expectations and became unlike anything I’ve ever read...hilarious...like many of us, July seems to have unbridled daydreams. Unlike most of us, she has wicked follow-through...July is exceptional at tracing the imaginative contours of sexuality... She is not after perfection: She loves the raw edges of emotion, she likes people and things to be a little worn. Life isn’t silky, July is saying. The snags and the snafus bring the joy...The First Bad Man makes for a wry, smart companion on any day. It’s warm, it has a heartbeat and a pulse. This is a book that is painfully alive.”
-Lauren Groff, The New York Times Book Review

"The first novel by the filmmaker and artist Miranda July is like one of those strange mythological creatures that are part one thing, part another — a griffin or a chimera, perhaps, or a sphinx... An immensely moving portrait of motherhood and what it means to take care of a child...July writes of Cheryl’s discovery of maternal love with heartfelt emotion and power."
-Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“July is brilliant, hilarious, irreverent, piercing—even cringe-inducing, powering past sexual boundaries and gender identification into the surprising galaxy of primal connection. ‘We all think we might be terrible people. But we only reveal this before we ask someone to love us. It is a kind of undressing.’ Is there a more hopeful statement about humankind? In Miranda July’s strange universe, probably not.”
-Jayne Anne Phillips, O, The Oprah Magazine

“Lovely writing is interspersed with outer-space levels of strange...yet gradually this catalog of the grotesque builds into something beautiful, and this deeply odd book abruptly becomes transcendent. It feels like being on a plane when it takes off—all that rattling, speed, and oil, and then suddenly: airborne.”
-Molly Langmuir, Elle

“July’s work seems to grow deeper and more endearing with each iteration, while retaining its hysterical-neurotic charms and crisp, colloquial wit. July’s first novel is a test of her range, which she ably passes. Single, middle-aged Cheryl Glickman expands from a collection of oddities — a baby obsession, a hallucinated ball in her throat, bizarre sexual fantasies — into someone with real longings, relationships, and opportunities for genuine growth and redemption.”
-New York Magazine

The First Bad Man is a disorienting mash-up of tongue-in-cheek social commentary, a celebration of oddball anti-heroines, and an embarrassingly honest look at the obsessions and entitlements we all (subconsciously or not) carry with us. I found myself laughing and cringing in equal measure, and even if I don’t totally understand everything July is trying to say or do here, I’ve become a believer.”
-Bustle

“Miranda July — filmmaker, performance artist and now novelist — is ready to leave the old Miranda July behind. You know the one: The curly haired gamin, her impossibly blue eyes swirling with ideas. The irrepressible creative blowing cinematic kisses to the world...The First Bad Man is about to complicate the picture. Striking and sexually bold, it reveals a side that is darker and that, truth be told, has lurked in her work all along...Though The First Bad Man actively challenges a reader's comfort zone, July creates a female neurotic archetype that's familiar and fresh at once.”
-Margaret Wappler, Los Angeles Times

The First Bad Man is the first great book of 2015... July’s work is tied together by her singular, confident, multifaceted voice. Her characters are often unusual and under-confident; her writing is always the former and never the latter. The First Bad Man, July’s debut novel, tells the story of an outwardly boring person whose interior life is a mosaic of delightful neuroses and staggering self-doubt... beautifully worded, emotionally complex, impressively but quietly insightful, and, in the right light, so, so funny.”
-Josh Modell, The AV Club

“Miranda July’s novel is a brilliant document of our age of managed sharing... The First Bad Man is a brave undertaking for July, and not just because it finds her committing to long-form storytelling without a visual element for the first time. It incorporates a boldly feminist recasting of familiar tropes and genres...Though this is her first novel, July is an accomplished writer of short fiction, and within The First Bad Man live a handful of perfectly drawn short stories...July has an enviable talent for sketching inner life as all-consuming...Within the context of the wider world—in which all speech is policed, but especially women’s stories about their uniquely feminine personal experiences—The First Bad Man feels visionary... Few have Miranda July’s...particular talent for couching what feel like naked, universal truths in clouds of the imagined and the impossible.”
-Karina Longworth, Slate

“Risky fiction: hilarious, dark, uncomfortable, and so accurate in mapping the way fantasies can overtake life that it’s also one of the most honest character studies I’ve read in a longtime...when pregnancy and an infant are introduced in the second half of the book, imagination and fantasy life are replaced with very real anguish, protection, and love.”
-Christopher Bollen, Interview

“July suffuses her narrative with compassion... The First Bad Man is a terrific novel... an off-kilter, extremely smart meditation on sex, love, loneliness, and the demands of work and womanhood.... engrossing, surprising, and emotionally true.”
-Eugenia Williamson, The Boston Globe

“Love comes in a dizzying number of shapes and sizes, Miranda July demonstrates in her stunning first novel...July is a brilliant stylist, and better yet, she’s funny...darkly comic, astonishing...this book couldn’t be better.”
-Kit Reed, The Miami Herald

The First Bad Man proves July’s extraordinary adeptness at yet another art form... by the novel’s lovely, blissfully hopeful conclusion, she and Cheryl... earn our unexpected affection.”
-Cliff Froehlich, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“If you were searching around fora representative creative artist for the middle of the 21st century’s second decade, you could do a lot worse than 40-year-old Miranda July. She’s an actress, a filmmaker, a performance artist, a conceptual artist, an APP, a short story writer and now, finally with this book, a novelist... she is a fresh, feminist, groundbreaking, creative sensibility who should probably be treated in entirety, if at all...Love, perverse if not polymorphous, is the basic subject there, although other subjects include everything from self-defense to lactation. Her literary voice is lively enough to be compulsive here.”
-Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News

“A downright delight...July has arranged all her characters on the stage, and we can guess their trajectories. After initial clashes, Clee and Cheryl will form an unlikely, yet mutually rewarding friendship, possibly over a drunken karaoke session. Through this friendship, Cheryl will learn to open her heart, let down her guard, and, hey, maybe touch up her hair and start shaving her legs...The subversive brilliance of July’s novel is that while it has the breezy verve of the sort of chummy novel where all of the above happens, none of it actually does. Cheryl is transformed by love, yes, but not in the way almost every other novel, film, and memoir about a single, early-middle-aged woman tells us she must be in order to function as a viable heroine. There is a sneaky feminist agenda at work here, all the more effective because it’s smuggled into a weird, hilarious, compulsively readable anti-romantic comedy. Like Clee, the book is a time bomb in a velour tracksuit.”
-Jennie Yabroff, The Daily Beast

“Compelling...will delight the open-minded reader looking for something new. It will satisfy July’s fans and win her many more."
-Library Journal (starred review)

“Delightful...Ms. July, a director, screenwriter and artist, has managed to craft not only a beguilingly odd and unpretentious narrator, but also tell a wise and surprising love story... Ms. July’s writing playfully mixes extraordinary ingredients with ordinary concerns and the effect is often amusing and insightful. This is not the work of a dilettante, but a strong follow-up to her acclaimed short stories that came out in 2007. Fiction will never claim Ms. July’s undivided attention, but with luck there will be more where this came from.”
-The Economist

“I have no compunction in predicting (in January, no less) that The First Bad Man will be one of the best books of 2015...Each new development — chromotherapy, unplanned pregnancy, love sprung from ‘cowlike vacuousness’ — feels like a literary sucker punch, one so calculated and well-placed that we can’t help, while bowled over, but admire July’s left hook...July’s emotional insights are as unassuming as they are universal...The First Bad Man is worth it for the sheer pleasure of discovering a fresh story and a vibrant, original voice. Readers may find the novel as seductive as Cheryl finds love: ‘It just feels good all over,’ she gasps. ‘It’s like wearing something beautiful and eating something delicious at the same time, all the time.’”
-Liz Cook, The Kansas City Star

“Steeped in hyperbole, humor, wry commentary and strange characters...a masterful setup for a poignant nucleus on the matter of motherhood. The birth of Clee’s son...adds even greater humanity and dimension to the young woman’s outlook than her lovingly dependent bond with Cheryl has. As for Cheryl herself, her lifelong yearning to love a child and be loved by the child in return is finally fulfilled...heartbreakingly beautiful...exquisite...a singular lyric anthem to maternal love.”
-David Wiegand, The San Francisco Chronicle

“This surreal novel blurs reality and imagination through the voice of Cheryl Glickman, the manager of a company that sells self-defense videos as a fitness aid. Cheryl works from home and lives alone, eating at her sink with a single utensil and dish—part of a “system” so refined that, she notes with pleasure, “after days and days alone it gets silky to the point where I can’t even feel myself anymore, it’s as if I don’t exist.” The arrival of a guest disrupts her life, bringing violence and eroticism. July has perfected the art of the compellingly uncomfortable scene, and though the technique perhaps suits short fiction better than a novel, she succeeds in making Cheryl both achingly familiar and repulsively alien.”
-New Yorker

“We don’t always know what intimate life consists of until novels tells us...a powerful mother-son love story... [the ending] leaves one thrillingly breathless...one realizes only then that one has been waiting the whole time for this very thing. And so one welcomes the multitalented Miranda July to the land of novel-writing...No one belongs here more than she.”
-Lorrie Moore, The New York Review of Books

The First Bad Man has time to unfold like an origami fortune-teller, revealing emotional landscapes that are satisfyingly complex, if slightly wrinkled...darker and more delicious than anything you'd expect.”
-Amy Gentry, The Chicago Tribune

“Hilarious and poignant...fascinating and unsettling...In Cheryl's world, we find the kind of resonance that reverberates long after the book is closed.”
-Karen Sandstrom, The Cleveland Plain-Dealer

A. M. Homes

I am in awe of Miranda July. She is the person I want to be, the artist who feels free to work in any number of media, the artist who is so talented, expressive. The First Bad Man is a book that must be read, a book that must be purchased – in duplicate – one for you, one for a friend. Don’t think you can loan this book – you’ll never get it back.

Dana Spiotta

Miranda July's exciting and wild novel The First Bad Man begins deeply, absurdly funny, gets increasingly twisted and strange, and then ends quietly, urgently heartfelt. It is a novel about aging, about motherhood, about sex, about weird wounded women—yes—but it is really a novel about the desperate possibility in all of us to love and be loved. The First Bad Man is like no other novel you will read this year (or any other year).

New York Magazine

July’s work seems to grow deeperand more endearing with each iteration, while retaining its hysterical-neuroticcharms and crisp, colloquial wit. July’s first novel is a test of her range,which she ably passes. Single, middle-aged Cheryl Glickman expands from acollection of oddities — a baby obsession, a hallucinated ball in her throat,bizarre sexual fantasies — into someone with real longings, relationships, andopportunities for genuine growth and redemption.

Lauren Groff

Very funny… The novel exploded my expectations and became unlikeanything I’ve ever read…hilarious…like many of us, July seems to haveunbridled daydreams. Unlike most of us, she has wicked follow-through…July isexceptional at tracing the imaginative contours of sexuality… She is not afterperfection: She loves the raw edges of emotion, she likes people and things tobe a little worn. Life isn’t silky, July is saying. The snags and the snafusbring the joy…The First Bad Man makesfor a wry, smart companion on any day. It’s warm, it has a heartbeat and apulse. This is a book that is painfullyalive.

Bustle

The First Bad Man isa disorienting mash-up of tongue-in-cheek social commentary, a celebration ofoddball anti-heroines, and an embarrassingly honest look at the obsessions andentitlements we all (subconsciously or not) carry with us. I found myselflaughing and cringing in equal measure, and even if I don’t totally understandeverything July is trying to say or do here, I’ve become a believer.

Chris Ware

The ‘yes, that’s really the way it is!’ moments in this book came so fast and furious that I found myself page-turningly propelled into a story that, despite its subtly off-kilter course, somehow — I don’t know how — ended up revealing the invisible and depthless emotional reality that roils and tugs beneath us all. Miranda July’s protagonist inhabits this uncharted world of unspeakable desires, embarrassing hopes and shifting conquests more fully than any in contemporary fiction I can recall, and you will inhabit it right along with her. You will also inhabit her. And she, you. The First Bad Man is a strange miracle of a book, and despite the opinion of its main character, a truly great American love story for our time.

George Saunders

July’s work reminds us that the essential storytelling tool is voice. Hers is smart, funny, twisted, vulnerable, humane, and reassuring: a dazzling human consciousness speaking frankly and fondly and directly to you. If I ever start to doubt the power of language and intelligence, I only have to read a few lines of July to have my faith restored.

The New York Times Michiko Kakutani

"The first novel by thefilmmaker and artist Miranda July is like one of those strange mythologicalcreatures that are part one thing, part another — a griffin or a chimera,perhaps, or a sphinx... An immenselymoving portrait of motherhood and what it means to take care of a child...Julywrites of Cheryl’s discovery of maternal love with heartfelt emotion and power."

the Boston Globe Eugenia Williamson

July suffuses her narrative withcompassion... The First Bad Man is a terrific novel… an off-kilter,extremely smart meditation on sex, love, loneliness, and the demands of workand womanhood….engrossing, surprising, and emotionally true.

Slate Karina Longworth

Miranda July’s novel is abrilliant document of our age of managed sharing… The First Bad Man is a brave undertaking for July, and not justbecause it finds her committing to long-form storytelling without a visualelement for the first time. It incorporates a boldly feminist recasting offamiliar tropes and genres...Though this is her first novel, July is anaccomplished writer of short fiction, and within The First Bad Man live a handful of perfectly drawn shortstories...July has an enviable talent for sketching inner life as all-consuming...Within the context of the wider world—in which all speech is policed, butespecially women’s stories about their uniquely feminine personal experiences—TheFirst Bad Man feelsvisionary… Few have Miranda July’s…particular talent for couching whatfeel like naked, universal truths in clouds of the imagined and theimpossible.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch Cliff Froehlich

The First Bad Man proves July’s extraordinary adeptness at yetanother art form… by the novel’s lovely, blissfully hopeful conclusion,she and Cheryl… earn our unexpected affection.

The Daily Beast Jennie Yabroff

Adownright delight…July has arranged all her characters on the stage, and wecan guess their trajectories. After initial clashes,Clee and Cheryl will form an unlikely, yet mutually rewarding friendship,possibly over a drunken karaoke session. Through this friendship, Cheryl willlearn to open her heart, let down her guard, and, hey, maybe touch up her hairand start shaving her legs…The subversive brilliance of July’snovel is that while it has the breezy verve of the sort of chummy novel whereall of the above happens, none of it actually does. Cheryl is transformed bylove, yes, but not in the way almost every other novel, film, and memoir abouta single, early-middle-aged woman tells us she must be in order to function asa viable heroine. There is a sneaky feminist agenda at work here, all the moreeffective because it’s smuggled into a weird, hilarious, compulsivelyreadable anti-romantic comedy. Like Clee, the book is a timebomb in avelour tracksuit.

Lena Dunham

Miranda July's ability to pervert norms while embracing what makes us normal is astounding. Writing in the first person with the frank, odd lilt of an utterly truthful character, she will make you laugh, cringe and recognize yourself in a woman you never planned to be. By the time July tackles motherhood, the book has become a bible. Never has a novel spoken so deeply to my sexuality, my spirituality, my secret self. I know I am not alone.

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer Karen Sandstrom

Hilarious and poignant…fascinating and unsettling…In Cheryl's world, we find the kind of resonance that reverberates long after the book is closed.

The Chicago Tribune Amy Gentry

The First Bad Man has time to unfold like an origami fortune-teller, revealing emotional landscapes that are satisfyingly complex, if slightly wrinkled…darker and more delicious than anything you'd expect.

Lorrie Moore

We don’t always know what intimate life consists of until novels tells us…a powerful mother-son love story…[the ending] leaves one thrillingly breathless…one realizes only then that one has been waiting the whole time for this very thing. And so one welcomes the multitalented Miranda July to the land of novel-writing…No one belongs here more than she.

New Yorker

This surreal novel blurs realityand imagination through the voice of Cheryl Glickman, the manager of a companythat sells self-defense videos as a fitness aid. Cheryl works from home andlives alone, eating at her sink with a single utensil and dish—part of a“system” so refined that, she notes with pleasure, “after days and days aloneit gets silky to the point where I can’t even feel myself anymore, it’s as if Idon’t exist.” The arrival of a guest disrupts her life, bringing violence anderoticism. July has perfected the artof the compellingly uncomfortable scene, and though the techniqueperhaps suits short fiction better than a novel, she succeeds in making Cherylboth achingly familiar and repulsively alien.

The San Francisco Chronicle David Wiegand

Steeped in hyperbole, humor, wry commentary and strangecharacters…a masterful setup for a poignant nucleus on the matter ofmotherhood. The birth of Clee’s son…adds even greater humanity and dimension tothe young woman’s outlook than her lovingly dependent bond with Cheryl has. Asfor Cheryl herself, her lifelong yearning to love a child and be loved by thechild in return is finally fulfilled…heartbreakingly beautiful…exquisite…a singularlyrich anthem to maternal love.

The Kansas City Star Liz Cook

THEKANSAS CITY STAR

“I have no compunction in predicting (in January,no less) that The First Bad Man will be one of the best books of 2015…Each new development — chromotherapy, unplanned pregnancy, love sprung from‘cowlike vacuousness’ — feels like a literary sucker punch, one so calculatedand well-placed that we can’t help, while bowled over, but admire July’s lefthook…July’s emotional insights are as unassuming as they are universal…TheFirst Bad Man is worth it for the sheer pleasure of discovering a freshstory and a vibrant, original voice. Readers may find the novel as seductive asCheryl finds love: ‘It just feels good all over,’ she gasps. ‘It’s like wearingsomething beautiful and eating something delicious at the same time, all thetime.’

The Economist

Delightful…Ms July, a director,screenwriter and artist, has managed to craft not only a beguilingly odd andunpretentious narrator, but also tell a wise and surprising love story… MsJuly’s writing playfully mixes extraordinary ingredients with ordinary concernsand the effect is often amusing and insightful. This is not the work of adilettante, but a strong follow-up to her acclaimed short stories that came outin 2007. Fiction will never claim Ms July’s undivided attention, but with luckthere will be more where this came from.

The New York Review of Books Lorrie Moore

We don’t always know what intimate life consists of until novels tells us…a powerful mother-son love story…[the ending] leaves one thrillingly breathless…one realizes only then that one has been waiting the whole time for this very thing. And so one welcomes the multitalented Miranda July to the land of novel-writing…No one belongs here more than she.

Library Journal

★ 09/15/2014
July is a quirky creator working in many media, so much so that she was the subject of an Onion article titled "Miranda July Called Before Congress To Explain Exactly What Her Whole Thing Is." She has an award-winning short story collection (No One Belongs Here More Than You), films (The Future), and performance art pieces under her belt, but this is her first novel. The author's protagonist is Cheryl, a lonely middle-aged woman invested in her work for a company that produces self-defense exercise videos. Cheryl's incredibly regimented life is interrupted by Clee, a young, irresponsible houseguest who won't leave. Cheryl's problems start out predictably, but her inner monolog and way of coping with loneliness and alienation are anything but typical. Her obsession with an older coworker leads her to explore her sexuality and gender identity, and through Clee she learns about herself and fulfills a lifelong desire to care for a child born to the "wrong" mother. VERDICT This well-written, compelling novel will delight the open-minded reader looking for something new. It will satisfy July's fans and win her many more. [See Prepub Alert, 7/7/14.]—Kate Gray, Worcester P.L., MA

Kirkus Reviews

2014-10-23
In a bizarrely touching first novel, July (It Chooses You, 2011, etc.) brings the characteristic humor, frankness and emotional ruthlessness of her previous work in film, prose and performance to a larger canvas. Cheryl Glickman lives a lonely, precisely arranged life afflicted by mysterious neuroses, including the persistent sensation of a lump in her throat. She obsesses over Phillip Bettelheim, a board member of the nonprofit where she works, and the belief that she keeps meeting a familiar, beloved soul embodied in the babies of strangers. Afflicted by a host of anxieties, both believable and outrageous, Cheryl keeps her world tightly ordered until Clee, her bosses' aggressively rude and monstrously provocative daughter, comes to stay in her house and sets off a sequence of fantasies and disasters that violently transform Cheryl's life. Told in Cheryl's own confiding, unfiltered voice, the novel slides easily between plot and imagination, luring the reader so deeply into Cheryl's interior reality that the ridiculous inventions of her life become progressively more and more convincing. Cheryl acts out simulations from self-defense DVDs with Clee as self-prescribed therapy for her timidity and globus hystericus burdened throat. She becomes fixated on creating graphic, sometimes-perverted sexual fantasies between Clee and a multitude of other people. Her therapist becomes the receptionist of another therapist three times a year as part of "an immensely satisfying adult game." Though these strange details sometimes seem to slide into heavy-handed attempts to shock, at their best, they deliver an emotional slap made sharper and more fitting by their oddity. A sometimes-funny, sometimes-upsetting, surprisingly absorbing novel that lives up to the expectations created by July's earlier work and demonstrates her ability to carry the qualities of her short fiction into the thickly fleshed-out world of a novel.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780594688280
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 01/13/2015
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

The First Bad Man

CHAPTER ONE

I drove to the doctor’s office as if I was starring in a movie ­Phillip was watching—windows down, hair blowing, just one hand on the wheel. When I stopped at red lights, I kept my eyes mysteriously forward. Who is she? people might have been ­wondering. Who is that middle-aged woman in the blue Honda? I strolled through the parking garage and into the elevator, pressing 12 with a casual, fun-loving finger. The kind of finger that was up for anything. Once the doors had closed, I checked myself in the mirrored ceiling and practiced how my face would go if Phillip was in the waiting room. Surprised but not overly surprised, and he wouldn’t be on the ceiling so my neck wouldn’t be craning up like that. All the way down the hall I did the face. Oh! Oh, hi! There was the door.

DR. JENS BROYARD

CHROMOTHERAPY

I swung it open.

No Phillip.

It took a moment to recover. I almost turned around and went home—but then I wouldn’t be able to call him to say thanks for the referral. The receptionist gave me a new-patient form on a clipboard; I sat in an upholstered chair. There was no line that said “referred by,” so I just wrote Phillip Bettelheim sent me across the top.

“I’m not going to say that he’s the best in the whole world,” Phillip had said at the Open Palm fundraiser. He was wearing a gray cashmere sweater that matched his beard. “Because there’s a color doctor in Zurich who easily rivals him. But Jens is the best in LA, and definitely the best on the west side. He cured my athlete’s foot.” He lifted his foot and then put it down again before I could smell it. “He’s in Amsterdam most of the year so he’s very selective about who he sees here. Tell him Phil Bettelheim sent you.” He wrote the number on a napkin and began to samba away from me.

“Phil Bettelheim sent me.”

“Exactly!” he yelled over his shoulder. He spent the rest of the night on the dance floor.

I stared at the receptionist—she knew Phillip. He might have just left; he might be with the doctor right now. I hadn’t thought of that. I tucked my hair behind my ears and watched the door to the exam room. After a minute a willowy woman with a baby boy came out. The baby was swinging a crystal from a string. I checked to see if he and I had a special connection that was greater than his bond with his mother. We didn’t.

Dr. Broyard had Scandinavian features and wore tiny, judgmental glasses. While he read my new-patient form I sat on a meaty leather couch across from a Japanese paper screen. There weren’t any wands or orbs in sight, but I braced myself for something along those lines. If Phillip believed in chromotherapy that was enough for me. Dr. Broyard lowered his glasses.

“So. Globus hystericus.”

I started to explain what it was but he cut me off. “I’m a ­doctor.”

“Sorry.” But do real doctors say “I’m a doctor”?

He calmly examined my cheeks while stabbing a piece of paper with a red pen. There was a face on the paper, a generic face labeled CHERYL GLICKMAN.

“Those marks are . . . ?”

“Your rosacea.”

The paper’s eyes were big and round, whereas mine disappear altogether if I smile, and my nose is more potatoey. That said, the spaces between my features are in perfect proportion to each other. So far no one has noticed this. Also my ears: darling little shells. I wear my hair tucked behind them and try to enter crowded rooms ear-first, walking sideways. He drew a circle on the paper’s throat and filled it in with careful cross-hatching.

“How long have you had the globus?”

“On and off for about thirty years. Thirty or forty years.”

“Have you ever had treatment for it?”

“I tried to get a referral for surgery.”

“Surgery.”

“To have the ball cut out.”

“You know it’s not a real ball.”

“That’s what they say.”

“The usual treatment is psychotherapy.”

“I know.” I didn’t explain that I was single. Therapy is for couples. So is Christmas. So is camping. So is beach camping. Dr. Broyard rattled open a drawer full of tiny glass bottles and picked one labeled RED. I squinted at the perfectly clear liquid. It reminded me a lot of water.

“It’s the essence of red,” he said brusquely. He could sense my skepticism. “Red is an energy, which only develops a hue in crude form. Take thirty milliliters now and then thirty milliliters each morning before first urination.” I swallowed a dropperful.

“Why before first urination?”

“Before you get up and move around—movement raises your basal body temperature.”

I considered this. What if a person were to wake up and immediately have sex, before urination? Surely that would raise your basal body temperature too. If I had been in my early thirties instead of my early forties would he have said before first urination or sexual intercourse? That’s the problem with men my age, I’m somehow older than them. Phillip is in his sixties, so he probably thinks of me as a younger woman, a girl almost. Not that he thinks of me yet—I’m just someone who works at Open Palm. But that could change in an instant; it could have happened today, in the waiting room. It still might happen, if I called him. Dr. Broyard handed me a form.

“Give this to Ruthie at the front desk. I scheduled a follow-up visit, but if your globus worsens before then you might want to consider some kind of counseling.”

“Do I get one of those crystals?” I pointed to the cluster of them hanging in the window.

“A sundrop? Next time.”

THE RECEPTIONIST XEROXED MY INSURANCE card while explaining that chromotherapy isn’t covered by insurance.

“The next available appointment is June nineteenth. Do you prefer morning or afternoon?” Her waist-length gray hair was off-putting. Mine is gray too but I keep it neat.

“I don’t know—morning?” It was only February. By June Phillip and I might be a couple, we might come to Dr. Broyard’s together, hand in hand.

“Is there anything sooner?”

“The doctor’s in this office only three times a year.”

I glanced around the waiting area. “Who will water this plant?” I leaned over and pushed my finger into the fern’s soil. It was wet.

“Another doctor works here.” She tapped the Lucite display holding two stacks of cards, Dr. Broyard’s and those of a Dr. Tibbets, LCSW. I tried to take one of each without using my dirty finger.

“How’s nine forty-five?” she asked, holding out a box of Kleenex.

I RACED THROUGH THE PARKING garage, carrying my phone in both hands. Once the doors were locked and the AC was on, I dialed the first nine digits of Phillip’s number, then paused. I had never called him before; for the last six years it was always him calling me, and only at Open Palm and only in his capacity as a board member. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea. Suzanne would say it was. She made the first move with Carl. Suzanne and Carl were my bosses.

“If you feel a connection, don’t be shy about it,” she’d once said.

“What’s an example of not being shy about it?”

“Show him some heat.”

I waited four days, to spread out the questions, and then I asked her for an example of showing heat. She looked at me for a long time and then pulled an old envelope out of the trash and drew a pear on it. “This is how your body is shaped. See? Teeny tiny on top and not so tiny on the bottom.” Then she explained the illusion created by wearing dark colors on the bottom and bright colors on top. When I see other women with this color combination I check to see if they’re a pear too and they always are—two pears can’t fool each other.

Below her drawing she wrote the phone number of someone she thought was more right for me than Phillip—a divorced alcoholic father named Mark Kwon. He took me out to dinner at Mandarette on Beverly. When that didn’t pan out she asked me if she was barking up the wrong tree. “Maybe it’s not Mark you don’t like? Maybe it’s men?” People sometimes think this because of the way I wear my hair; it happens to be short. I also wear shoes you can actually walk in, Rockports or clean sneakers instead of high-heeled foot jewelry. But would a homosexual woman’s heart leap at the sight of a sixty-five-year-old man in a gray sweater? Mark Kwon remarried a few years ago; Suzanne made a point of telling me. I pressed the last digit of Phillip’s number.

“Hello?” He sounded asleep.

“Hi, it’s Cheryl.”

“Oh?”

“From Open Palm.”

“Oh, hello, hello! Wonderful fundraiser, I had a blast. How can I help you, Cheryl?”

“I just wanted to tell you I saw Dr. Broyard.” There was a long pause. “The chromotherapist,” I added.

“Jens! He’s great, right?”

I said I thought he was phenomenal.

This had been my plan, to use the same word that he had used to describe my necklace at the fundraiser. He had lifted the heavy beads off my chest and said, “This is phenomenal, where’d you get it?” and I said, “From a vendor at the farmer’s market,” and then he used the beads to pull me toward him. “Hey,” he said, “I like this, this is handy.” An outsider, such as Nakako the grant writer, might have thought this moment was degrading, but I knew the degradation was just a joke; he was mocking the kind of man who would do something like that. He’s been doing these things for years; once, during a board meeting, he insisted my blouse wasn’t zipped up in back, and then he unzipped it, laughing. I’d laughed too, immediately reaching around to close it back up. The joke was, Can you believe people? The tacky kinds of things they do? But it had another layer to it, because imitating crass people was kind of liberating—like pretending to be a child or a crazy person. It was something you could do only with someone you really trusted, someone who knew how capable and good you actually were. After he released his hold on my necklace I had a brief coughing fit, which led to a discussion of my globus and the color doctor.

The word phenomenal didn’t seem to trigger anything in him; he was saying Dr. Broyard was expensive but worth it and then his voice began rising toward a polite exit. “Well, I guess I’ll see you at the board meeting to—” but before he could say morrow, I interrupted.

“When in doubt, give a shout!”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m here for you. When in doubt, just give me a shout.”

What silence. Giant domed cathedrals never held so much emptiness. He cleared his throat. It echoed, bouncing around the dome, startling pigeons.

“Cheryl?”

“Yes?”

“I think I should go.”

I didn’t say anything. He would have to step over my dead body to get off the phone.

“Goodbye,” he said, and then, after a pause, he hung up.

I put the phone in my purse. If the red was already working then my nose and eyes would now be pierced with that beautiful stinging sensation, a million tiny pins, culminating in a giant salty rush, the shame moving through my tears and out to the gutter. The cry climbed to my throat, swelling it, but instead of surging upward it hunkered down right there, in a belligerent ball. Globus hystericus.

Something hit my car and I jumped. It was the door of the car next to mine; a woman was maneuvering her baby into its car seat. I held my throat and leaned forward to get a look, but her hair blocked its face so there was no way to tell if it was one of the babies I think of as mine. Not mine biologically, just . . . familiar. I call those ones Kubelko Bondy. It only takes a second to check; half the time I don’t even know I’m doing it until I’m already done.

The Bondys were briefly friends with my parents in the early seventies. Mr. and Mrs. Bondy and their little boy, Kubelko. Later, when I asked my mom about him, she said she was sure that wasn’t his name, but what was his name? Kevin? Marco? She couldn’t remember. The parents drank wine in the living room and I was instructed to play with Kubelko. Show him your toys. He sat silently by my bedroom door holding a wooden spoon, sometimes hitting it against the floor. Wide black eyes, fat pink jowls. He was a young boy, very young. Barely more than a year old. After a while he threw his spoon and began to wail. I watched him crying and waited for someone to come but no one came so I heaved him onto my small lap and rocked his chubby body. He calmed almost immediately. I kept my arms around him and he looked at me and I looked at him and he looked at me and I knew that he loved me more than his mother and father and that in some very real and permanent way he belonged to me. Because I was only nine it wasn’t clear if he belonged to me as a child or as a spouse, but it didn’t matter, I felt myself rising up to the challenge of heartache. I pressed my cheek against his cheek and held him for what I hoped would be eternity. He fell asleep and I drifted in and out of consciousness myself, unmoored from time and scale, his warm body huge then tiny—then abruptly seized from my arms by the woman who thought of herself as his mother. As the adults made their way to the door saying tired too-loud thank-yous, Kubelko Bondy looked at me with panicked eyes.

Do something. They’re taking me away.

I will, don’t worry, I’ll do something.

Of course I wouldn’t just let him sail out into the night, not my own dear boy. Halt! Unhand him!

But my voice was too quiet, it didn’t leave my head. Seconds later he sailed out into the night, my own dear boy. Never to be seen again.

Except I did see him again—again and again. Sometimes he’s a newborn, sometimes he’s already toddling along. As I pulled out of my parking spot I got a better look at the baby in the car next to mine. Just some kid.

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