By Miranda July
GoodReads rating: 3.59 out of 5
GL rating: 9 out of 11
I've finished reading The First Bad Man, and it is a remarkable, periodically astonishing first novel. If you haven't read it yet, my advice is to do so, but don't read anything about it before-hand. It's best read cold. This post is spoiler-free.
July manages to pack complex ideas and themes -- as well as brilliant and original plot and character developments -- into a book that masquerades as something more conventional. The story and characters are replete with left turns that are jarring yet completely credible in the context of the narrative; not an easy trick.
There was enough meat floating beneath the surface (ewww) that I had a fleeting urge to immediately go back and re-read it. There were a few points in the novel where I was confronted by questions such as, "how the fuck did she do that," or "where the fuck did that come from?"
The novel is also very funny; not "continuous LOLOL" funny, but on at least one occasion I found myself laughing a bit harder for a bit longer than I wanted to while on a subway.
I don't have much to offer in terms of criticism. I can say that the caliber of the story-telling is generally and consistently high, portions of the book were merely "good," rather than fantastic. There was one brief section, maybe 20 pages, where the writing lost some of its energy, and I was concerned that the remainder of the book was going to sag. Fortunately, it was a brief lull.
I was curious to see what other reviewers had to say about Bad Man, and they were less bullish on it than I am. It's a better novel than reviewers gave it credit for. The main criticism seems to be "nice first innings, but twee" or quirky.
There was one moment in the novel where I wondered if Wes Anderson was a minor influence, but quickly discarded this idea. Bad Man is darker, more sophisticated, and less cartoonish than Wes Anderson's work, which irritates or enrages me. Bad Man is not I repeat not twee or gratuitously quirky.
After finishing it tonight I looked again at where I'd placed it in my goofy little rankings, and I'm now uncertain about spots 4 through 10. I've put Bad Man above Austerlitz. Lot 49, and The Sun Also Rises, and I'm wondering if that makes sense.
Part of the reason I've placed Bad Man so high in the rankings is that I believe it's harder to write a gripping story with relatively low dramatic stakes. It's more of a challenge to make the normal seem, you know, magical.
Rankings aside, buy and read the shit out of The First Bad Man, it's a gem.
Disclaimers: Miranda July went to UC Santa Cruz while I was there; a former friend dated her very briefly. I've never met her, nor did any of this affect my reading of the book.
I've today assigned The First Bad Man a preliminary ranking and rating (first time I've done that) because I'm very into the book and I needed to take action. I'm about 85 pages into it, and it's amazing writing. I'm withholding final judgement until I finish it; Manhattan Beach was very good, until it sort of fell apart, but my sense as of today is that The First Bad Man will not fall apart because it's not as much of a plot-driven novel as Manhattan Beach was.
I'll have a full review posted soon-ish, watch this space.