The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for staying within your comfort zone


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Ailment: Staying within your comfort zone

Cure: The First Bad Man by Miranda July

Emotional, physical, and social comfort zones cushion us as we cut a path through the world. We establish areas of tried-and-tested behaviours not just at work but also in our relationships. And what's wrong with that? Being in a place of safety and predictability makes life easier, for sure; but if we never do anything that frightens us, it also means we will never develop or grow. We challenge you to step out of your comfort zone with actor-director-turned-novelist Miranda July's first novel, which is anything but a comfortable ride.

The First Bad Man's heroine is plain to look at, difficult, and – well, unusual. For the past 20 years, Cheryl has worked for a non-profit outfit making self-defence martial arts videos. She does this from home – not because she chooses to but because nobody wants her in the office. Here, she lives by a system that involves as little movement as possible: eating her food near the sink, and keeping only one of every item she needs – one spoon, one bowl, one towel.

So when big-breasted house guest Clee is thrust upon her by her bosses – a magnificent specimen of womanhood but also an unruly slob – her military lifestyle comes under threat. It transpires that Clee has a violent streak, and she and Cheryl soon find themselves living out the self-defence scenarios from the videos for real. The intense physical contact this generates leads to an electrifying – and challenging – eroticism.

Forget about dishy main characters engaged in intriguing, romantic trysts. Instead, wrap your literary stomach around gay wrestling matches on the sofa, snails climbing kitchen walls, and a reincarnated baby spirit named Kubelko Bondy. Then unleash yourself on the day with a newly opened mind and a bolder step, ready to embrace, encourage and – who knows – enact all kinds of unexpected quirk.