Saturday, November 14, 2015

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

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 the 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 myslef in the mirrored ceiling and practiced how my face would go if Philip 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! 

I first encountered Miranda July during college, when Netflix recommended that I get the DVD of Me and You and Everyone We Know.  I was really into indie comedies back then, and when Netflix said I would rate something five stars, it was never wrong (indeed, it was a simpler time...).  Netflix was spot on with Me and You and Everyone We Know; it's one of the few indie films from that time of my life that I still remember and rewatch occasionally.

I didn't even know July wrote fiction.  During one of our camping trips Brittany brought the audio tapes for one of her collections of short stories, read by her.  Confession: I love the sound of her voice.  The short story collection was great (although, I don't think I finished listening to it).

So I was excited to see she'd written a novel (and even more excited when my friend lent it to me).

July has a talent for characters for whom regular interactions are very difficult.  These characters know that they are navigating a world that is easy to navigate for others, and so have a deep self-consciousness about the fact that they are different from other characters.  This novel is no exception.

The protagonist/narrator, Cheryl, works for a self-defense workshop not for profit; the group teaches women how to defend themselves against attackers.  She is full of insightful and hilarious observations about the people around her: "Dr. Broyard had Scandinavian features and wore tiny, judgmental glasses."

By the time we meet Cheryl, she is infatuated with Phillip, an older man who works on the board of her office; she works at home because her coworkers have decided she's better as a stay-at-home-manager.  Her life is disrupted when a temporary roommate is forced on her: where Cheryl is quiet, structured, and middle aged, her new roommate is loud, spontaneous, and young.

The novel is full of beautiful writing and imagery, and she successfully maintains an interesting plot throughout.  Highly recommended.

And because this is clearly the best cinematic moment in the all of time and space, I'm linking it here:

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