Recently, I have heard many great things about Miranda July’s first novel The First Bad Man. And because I usually trust the opinions of people in regards to book recommendations, I purchased the book. I can assertively state that I was not prepared for what I was about to read.
The First Bad Man tells the love story of Cheryl Glickman. She is a woman in her forties who lives alone and works at a self-defense non-profit. In love with a man in his seventies, she must deal with a new roommate Clee – the twenty year old daughter of her bosses. Throughout the novel, Cheryl does arrive to the true love of her life. But it is not in the way you expect it. In fact, even the alternative unexpected way you think will happen is also not what will happen.
I have mixed feelings about this novel. As a whole, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it very much. It is strange and quirky in a way that works. Initially, things that bothered and annoyed me began to amuse me. I found myself laughing as many aspects of the plot began to unfold. However, there is an aspect of the novel that bothers me and I am still not sure whether it bothers me enough so that I completely loath the book.
My concern with this novel it’s portrayal of sexuality. This appears as a strange concern to have for a novel that clearly explores the different ways in which sexuality can exist. Which is a good thing. Which is what we need more of. And while isolated from the rest of novel, the way sexuality is portrayed is quite progressive. It is a win. But only when disassociated from the rest of the novel.
When taken as a whole, this book falls into what I call the “queerness is queer” trap. This trap, or construct, is when individuals in our culture use sexuality as a way to demonstrate just how odd, strange, weird they are. You know exactly what I mean by this. When Lena Dunham (who ironically read this book and just loved it!) is so damn sad that she is straight. Because who isn’t upset that they didn’t have it worse in life? Sexuality and queer identity is repetitively exploited by individuals who want to appear as strange and odd as possible.
That is why the gender and sexuality portrayed in this novel has me so conflicted. On one hand, it breaks down assumptions of how people, in particular woman, are supposed to be. How they are supposed to behave. What they are suppose to like. On the other hand, it perpetuates queer identity as a quirk comparable to that of a foot fungus. As something that can only exist in the outskirts of the norm. As something that lacks the capacity to be square.