by James Franco
Faber & Faber, 2011
stopped for no reason except that the night is still going and we’re
drunk, and who wants to go home, ever, and this spot is as good as any
to just sit in the shadows and let life slow."
Reviewed by Alex Thornber
always an audible sigh when news circulates that a famous person is
building a new wing onto their wheelhouse that stretches beyond the
boundaries of what they are known for. James Franco has been working
hard on his extensions recently and has forced us to ask "Where
does he find the time?" Franco is a well known actor, Gucci model,
director, screenwriter and had recently taken three graduate courses
at the same time and is now doing a PhD at Yale along side his acting
career. With master's degrees in creative writing it is no
surprise that he would bring out a collection of short stories, what
is surprising however, is how good that collection is.
is a collection of stories about young kids and teenagers essentially
being kids and teenagers. This is by no means a new idea in story
telling but it is definitely fresh, and slightly haunting, how true
these stories are. With reoccurring characters, themes and to some
extent story lines, Franco depicts a bitterly violent and nihilistic
view of modern childhood that this reader could unfortunately
writing in Palo Alto is never going to please everyone; it is
naturalistic in style and makes use of both short, snappy and long-winded sentences. The stories read like Salinger's Catcher
in the Rye, with a less irritating
narrator, crossed with the self-destructive nature of characters that
frequent some of Carver's best stories. Palo Alto is far from
merely cut and paste replication however and it is in the format of
the whole book that shows Franco's fascinating creativity. Each of
the stories centres on characters living in Palo Alto and track back
and forth in time, mostly anchored in some stage of grade school.
When reading the book as a whole you get the feeling of having grown
up with these kids as they change friends, pop up in other stories or
re-tell something we have already heard from someone else, just like
first two stories in this collection Halloween
have hit-and-run accidents as the main drive behind them. Some may
see this as laziness on the writer's part but both of the stories
are completely different in their own right and both evoke wildly
different emotions. I would argue however that this is where Franco
is deliberately playing with his readers.
is one thing that can help us understand these stories and their
author, it is Franco's celebrity. Franco seems to reside somewhere
outside of tradition, bear in mind that this is the man who played a
character in "General Hospital" named Franco who was a multi-media
artist and claimed it all as performance art. Franco is never going
to let us have it easy and it is everything you don't see right
away that makes this collection something entirely outside of what we
are used to. There is no rule saying that a writer cannot have two
similar stories in one collection, there is even another car accident
later on in the book. I'm sure almost everyone has a story about
when they missed the last bus for example, but no two are the same.
Why, in college I knew three people who had crashed their cars into
lampposts and two boys who got escorted home for shooting birds with
BB guns, and countless people who got drunk in class; people aren't
all individual, stuff happens to everyone and Franco highlights this
magnificently in his fiction.
of the stories in this collection are told in the first person, which
Franco is really strong at. Even if you were a good kid in school
you get filled with adrenaline as you are fleeing from a man who is
chasing you after you shot a rock through his window. There is not
much difference between the characters'
voices however, which some may find irritating to read, but it all
seams to work within the themes and overall tone of the book and the
characters which inhabit it. Franco is clearly in control of what he
wants his characters to say and how they portray their emotions and
manages to capture the fleeting attention span, and often-brutal
bluntness, of an adolescent's thoughts and actions without making
them read like sociopaths.
story, called Chinatown,
could however convince you otherwise. This story, told in three
parts, follows a teenage boy's relationship with a "half
Vietnamese" girl, though relationship is perhaps too polite a word.
Roberto, the boy, clumsily woos the girl, takes her virginity and
then somehow ends up essentially pimping her out for as little as a "the best dinners".
People may ask the immortal question when
dealing with these kind of works, or what seem like side projects,
"Would this have been released if it wasn't a famous person?" In
response to that I would have to say, yes.
is certainly not for everyone, and people who grew up in a different
generation may find a lot of the characters' actions over the top, but
there is a lot of warmth here, difficult emotions and the struggles
of teenage years; but maybe more police than most of us are used to.
This collection could maybe have done with a little editing, and
there are a few random words which sneak in like a rogue automatic
thesaurus which can be a little strange when uttered by a violent
teenager, but aside from that this is an excellent debut collection
of stories, presented in a new way, from a promising writer.
Literature about adolescence, but certainly not adolescent
Read a story from this collection in Esquire