In her debut novel, filmmaker/artist/author Miranda July creates the indelible Cheryl Glickman, the anti-romantic likes of whom we rarely see in fiction.
On page one of filmmaker and artist Miranda July’s novel The First Bad Man, the narrator, Cheryl Glickman, is driving to a doctor’s appointment, imagining how she might look to passersby on the street and in other cars: “When I stopped at 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?” The sentence exposes the fallacy of Cheryl’s logic: Who looks at a middle-aged woman driving a nondescript car, let alone wonders who she is? No one.
When we first meet her, Cheryl is deep in a decades-long project of self-negation. She practices a “system” of housekeeping that has reduced the effort it takes to live in her apartment to the minimum, rarely washing a dish or even moving across the room without a specific purpose. She doesn’t go out, never entertains. A psychosomatic condition called “globus hystericus” (a phantom lump in her throat) makes it impossible for her to cry, shout, or sometimes even swallow. She has long ago learned to be her “own servant,” requiring little from the world, expecting nothing of others. “After days and days alone it gets silky to the point where I can’t even feel myself anymore, it’s as if I don’t exist.”