Friday, June 19, 2015

The First Bad Man

By Miranda July

Cheryl Glickman is a middle-aged woman who lives in a fantasy world of her own creating. She thinks she understands what is going on in other people's lives and minds by merely looking at them. But, mostly, she is wrong.
When she was a girl, she got to hold a baby and she formed a bond of her own imagining with the baby, who she decided was named Kubelko Bondy. From that time forward, she checked every baby she saw to see if it was Kubelko Bondy. And even though they were not the original baby, she still felt that many of them were Kubelko Bondy. And she had internal dialogues with these babies, all the conversation supplied by herself, of course.
Then Clee enters her life. Clee is the daughter of her bosses and comes to stay with Cheryl for a time. Clee is a  handsome, young, hostile woman. After a few weeks together, she begins attacking Cheryl and beating on her.
Cheryl has a condition that causes her throat to tighten up and makes it difficult to swallow. She has been told that her condition is psychosomatic. But her struggles with Clee have relieved her condition and helped her feel more relaxed and comfortable. Soon, she and Clee are enacting out scenarios from self-defense courses where Clee is the attacker and Cheryl has to fight her off.
But this all changes when Clee becomes pregnant. Instead of returning home to her parents, Clee stays with Cheryl and Cheryl takes care of her. The combat scenarios stop. Clee decides she is in love with Cheryl. And Cheryl, who has been having sexual fantasizes about Cheryl for weeks, is glad to reciprocate.
The baby, Jack, is born and things between Cheryl and Clee cool down. Cheryl falls hard for the baby, deciding that Jack is Kubelko Bondy come back in her life at last. But now Clee is becoming distant and depressed and Cheryl fears she will take Jack and disappear forever.

For most of the story,  I disliked both of the main characters, the delusional Cheryl and the hostile Clee. Cheryl's fantasizes just made me tired and exasperated and Clee was a spoiled, sullen child.
Fortunately, Cheryl finally begins to realize that she has been mistaken in her thinking. It was when she reached this point that I began to like her. Until then I thought she was a rather pathetic fool. It was when newborn Jack was in the hospital and one of his nurses, while talking to Cheryl and Clee, winked several times. Cheryl, in fantasy mode, decides that, "It wasn't a kindly wink, it was a wink that said all the other nurses and all the employees at Open Palm [where Cheryl worked part-time] have told me about you, and now -- wink -- we get our revenge." Then Cheryl realizes, "The wink was a tic. It wasn't cruel or conspiring. It was just a thing she did."
It was a relief when Cheryl started giving up her fantasies for reality. It was only then that she became a sympathetic character, someone I wanted to have a happy ending.
I almost stopped reading this book when Clee started beating on Cheryl. That is not something that appeals to me and I probably would have stopped if Cheryl hadn't gotten relief from her psychosomatic condition from her combats with Clee. I enjoyed seeing Cheryl take her head out of the clouds and start to plant her feet on the ground and dwell in the real world and not in her fantasy world. So, even though this was, at times, an unpleasant read, in the end, I liked it and I think Cheryl and Clee are unforgettable.
For another review, see

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