A quirky jour­ney

THE SEN­TI­MEN­TAL LIFE STORY OF A SO­CIAL MIS­FIT

JJK e-magazine - - BOOKS -

Well be­fore the pub­li­ca­tion of this her first novel, Mi­randa July was for­mi­da­bly ac­com­plished. Her film, “Me and You and Ev­ery­one we Know”, which she also acted in, won the Cam­era d'Or at Cannes and a Spe­cial Jury Prize at Sun­dance; her col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, “No one Be­longs Here More Than You”, won the Frank O'Con­nor In­ter­na­tional Short Story Award; and her in­ter­ac­tive sculp­tures, “Eleven Heavy Things”, a cross be­tween a game of truth or dare and those theme park at­trac­tions where vis­i­tors put their heads through holes for comic photo op­por­tu­ni­ties, were ex­hib­ited at the 2009 Venice Bi­en­nale. She is also the cre­ator of the in­ter­ac­tive web project “Learn­ing to Love You More” - with artist Har­rell Fletcher - and the mo­bile app, “Some­body”, a net­worked game that in­vites peo­ple to per­son­ally de­liver SMS texts to strangers. Her imag­i­na­tion, it seems, is al­ways si­mul­ta­ne­ously at play and fever­ishly at work. Is she too good to be true? Or does she, as an­other re­viewer of this novel sug­gested, dream big like any­one else but, un­like the rest of us, al­ways fol­low through? It’s easy to mis­trust some­one as suc­cess­ful as July is across so many medi­ums, but af­ter just a few pages of this book it soon be­comes clear that her tal­ents truly do know no bounds. “The First Bad Man” is funny, fren­zied and wildly in­ven­tive, so al­lur­ingly full of sur­prises - in lan­guage use and nar­ra­tive con­vo­lu­tions - that my in­abil­ity to put it down was as much a fea­ture of my fas­ci­na­tion with the novel's un­pre­dictabil­ity as it was to do with its plot lines. In the process July has crafted a truly mem­o­rable char­ac­ter in forty-some­thing Ch­eryl Glickman, its first-per­son nar­ra­tor, who works for 'Open Palm', a com­pany that be­gan as a self-de­fence academy for women but now spe­cialises in fit­ness DVDs. Ch­eryl is ob­sessed with her boss, Phillip, a much older man in a V-neck sweater. She lives alone ac­cord­ing to her own set of ec­cen­tric rules re­gard­ing keep­ing the house tidy, with­out which, she be­lieves, she'd soon be liv­ing on the streets. She also fan­ta­sises about, and com­mu­ni­cates with, the soul of an imag­ined baby she has named Kubelko Bondy, who she is con­vinced is des­tined some­day to be hers. Life for Ch­eryl goes on more or less reg­u­larly, and more or less un­hinged, un­til one day her col­leagues foist their trou­ble­some daugh­ter Clee upon her. Clee is in her early twen­ties, of ir­reg­u­lar, slovenly habits, and so phys­i­cally at­trac­tive - so much the ideal of wom­an­hood - that Ch­eryl is mo­men­tar­ily thrown into con­fu­sion about her own sex. Clee also openly de­spises her host, forc­ing Ch­eryl to re­treat into her bed­room and into the last ves­tiges of her col­laps­ing regime. Phillip, mean­while, has taken up with 16 year-old Kirsten, and he be­gins to send Ch­eryl in­creas­ingly graphic text mes­sages ask­ing for her bless­ing be­fore they can con­sum­mate their re­la­tion­ship. And Ch­eryl and Clee soon stum­ble across a strange res­o­lu­tion to their dif­fer­ences through the phys­i­cal in­ti­macy of fight­ing, which de­vel­ops into a vi­o­lent role-play­ing game, re-en­act­ing scenes from Open Palm's ear­li­est self-de­fence videos in which women are shown how to pro­tect them­selves against sex­ual as­sault. The twists and turns of this wild, provoca­tive ride don't stop there, and once it has you in its grip the joy of sur­ren­der­ing your­self to wher­ever July wants to take you, re­gard­less of the des­ti­na­tion, is worth so much more than the price of ad­mis­sion. My only dis­ap­point­ment was that as Ch­eryl evolved and grew into some­one else, some­one stronger and more self­as­sured, I be­gan to miss her delu­sions and frail­ties. This, in turn, made me dis­ap­pointed in my­self as a hu­man be­ing for want­ing any­thing less than a happy end­ing for a char­ac­ter I had come to know and love. –

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