I’ve never really considered myself to be a sensitive person (and I don’t mean that in the emotional way. In that case, then yes. Yes I’m very sensitive.) What I mean is, I always thought I was hard to gross out. I mean, I watch ‘Tim and Eric’ without any hesitation and I’ve always had a strange spot in my heart for toilet humor. One would assume, I could handle some weird and uncomfortable stuff. But then came Miranda July’s book, The First Bad Man and all that changed.
I have never in my life found a book that hit all my triggers quite like this book did. And I don’t mean that in a positive way.
Trigger #1. Real Violence
For all the weird stuff I can handle, violence has always made me feel queasy, and that’s no exaggeration. I literally get nauseous if I see a person punch another person. Oddly enough, movie violence doesn’t have the same effect. I can handle that. My mind knows that it’s pretend. But if I see footage on the news of people fighting, that’s it. I’m nauseous.
When I started this book, I had no idea what it was about. Man, was I surprised when this book took a hard left turn into weird lady-fight-club land! Although the violence is fiction, it was written in a way that felt realistic. And clearly it was too realistic for me because with every punch, I felt the waves of nausea crash against me.
Trigger #2. Feet Smell
I have a particularly sensitive sense of smell. For example, I have been known to sniff out minor gas leaks and identify the colognes of strangers passing by. If I love a smell, I love it with all my heart. But if I hate a smell, my brain will not allow me to get used to it. Instead, it will torture me to the point that it’s the only thing I can think about. Even if it’s a phantom smell. Let me explain…
When we are first introduced to one of the characters, the narrator decides to mention how bad the person’s feet smell. The description was so vivid, I felt like I could smell those stinky feet too. It grossed me the hell out. However, I decided to forge on with the hope that the description would be a one time occurrence. To my dismay, the feet were mentioned again. And then again and again. And to make it worse, the author decided to mention the stinky feet smell during a scene where the narrator was describing one of her sexual fantasies. The combination was so horrific that I found myself completely balled up on the couch, concerned that I was going to be sick.
Trigger #3. Very Unsexy Dirty Talk
I know calling oneself a prude is not flattering. No one wants to be a prude. Unfortunately for me, deep down, I shamefully have prude-ish qualities. I think these qualities stem from a watching a lot of music videos on VH1 at a very young age.
For a brief time when I was very young, I was was mildly obsessed with labeling things as “too sexy.” During this time, I became really great at censoring myself on behalf of my parents (who by the way, had no idea I was doing this). If a music video came on that was romantic or sexual in any way, I would think “this is not age appropriate for me” and deem it “too sexy.” I would then turn it off because in my mind I thought “I bet my parents will appreciate this.” You’re welcome mom and dad.
I would shy away from videos like Brian Adams’ “Have You Ever Loved a Woman,” Bon Jovi’s “Always,” and “Wicked Game” by Chris Issack (which in all honesty, I still think is way too sexy). I even had issues with this tape of French pop music I owned, which was all sung in French (a language I didn’t understand then and still don’t understand now). By tone alone, I declared that the duet, “Joue Pas” sounded “too sexy,” and felt I needed to turn that mysterious French smut off. Essentially, I was the Tipper Gore of my elementary school, slapping Parental Advisory stickers on everything I could get my 7-year old hands on.
Anyway, as an adult I like to think that much of that prude-ness has worn off, but I suppose some of it still must live deep down within me. Case in point, this book. When the character starts with the dirty talk (which by the way felt so unbearably forced and unnatural for the character) I couldn’t handle it. The overt pornographic descriptions were not sexy or funny. They were just…uncomfortable.
With that, all three of my triggers were hit. Violence, feet, AND bad dirty talk?!
I found myself barely able to hold the book upright. I was so nervous about what was to come, I found myself reading through squinted eyes (as if squinting them would protect me from reading any more gross detail). As I continued to read, I could feel the pains in my back getting stronger and stronger. I was cringing. My entire body was literally cringing. And page by page, it got worse. More violence. More feet. More awkward sex.
So at page 120, I slammed the book shut. I decided right then and there, it was OK for me to abandon the book.
Although I was pissed at myself for not finishing, I realized that reading is about having fun, and I wasn’t having fun with this book. Although I celebrate feeling new things through literature, I realized that it’s OK to not want to feel everything. Sadness? Sure! Bring it! New points of view? Humor? Fear? Ok, Yea! Let’s do this! But discomfort? No thanks. I’ll pass.
However, I did see a lot of positive reviews about this book on the Internet. So, I ask those of you who read Miranda July’s The First Bad Man, what do you think of this book? Were any of you able to power through? What did you think of the story? Share your comments below!
And if you haven’t read this one, have you ever had a book that made you so uncomfortable you had to abandon it? Tell us all about it in our comments section!