Miranda July's talk on Friday was a kind of performance art. Whether that is good or bad depends on how you feel about her.
An hour with Miranda July is exhausting. On Friday, the filmmaker/artist/writer was an emotional roller-coaster while talking about her latest novel, The First Bad Man, at the Toronto Reference Library. She laughed, cried, and spoke about masturbating to her own novel while writing it. It was performance art for the crowded room of fans, and they loved it.
There’s a calculated rawness to July’s style. She effortlessly flows from twee to raunchy, and the dynamic shocks and delights her audience. Before speaking about sexual fantasies, a focal point of her book, she looks down and says, “I probably shouldn’t say this,” before launching into a well-rehearsed bit about how she created fantasies for her friend and interviewer Sheila Heti.
When you enter July’s world, she’s in control. With Heti’s shaking voice and vague, ellipsis-filled questions, the interview was almost completely led by July. It was an awkward back-and-forth that included frequent prefaces of “we’ve spoken about this before.” Witnessing this felt like getting the sloppy seconds of an intimate conversation. There was no effort to create a moment on stage, as it was instead filtered through their previously existing friendship.
Despite this, it’s easy to lose yourself in July’s style and idiosyncrasies. Like the book, her talk twists around itself to reveal hidden emotions like anger, fear, and depravity, and in the process subverts expectations. Who else could tell a jam-packed audience that she wrote an unpublishable short story about beastiality and manage to make it charming?
The First Bad Man tells the story of a quirky woman’s sexual relationship with a 20-year-old sloppy bombshell. It’s raw, rough, and charismatic, and imprinted with July’s hollow voice and bright eyes. On her writing process, July says, “I’m really picturing everything and acting out both parts.” For better or worse, the effect is that every character reads like a dressed-up version of the author. It might not be for everyone, but those who love July will cherish every page.