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Palo Alto: Stories by James Franco a Review
Palo Alto: Stories by James Franco
224 pgs, Scribner, 2010
overall rating 4/35
James Franco, don't quit your day job
Apart from his work on the seminal Freaks and Geeks, I have very little interest in James Franco. His acting abilities are marginal at best and obnoxious at worst (though I do appreciate his comedic timing on sitcoms like 30 Rock and I enjoyed the film Pineapple Express. His writing ability… obnoxious would be complimentary.
I was perusing the local library and came across Palo Alto: Stories and curiosity compelled me to check it out when I was that the author was Mr. Franco. Reading the “About the author”, when I saw that he had obtained his MFA from prestigious Columbia University and was taught by none other than Amy Hempel (who also writes a nice review of the book on the dust jacket), I figured it had to be decent.
I was wrong. So wrong and Palo Alto: Stories is now only the second book I have voluntarily not finished. I stopped reading after a story full of racial slurs (the book is filled with race-bating an misogyny) concluded with an impromptu gang bang/prostitution ring. The perpetrators are sophomores in high school.. Trust me. It’s not as exciting as it sounds…
Writing a short story collection with interlinked stories is a complicated venture. You need to find the red thread which ties the stories together without blurring the lines and creating a serious of tedious anecdotes. Mr. Franco fails here in almost every respect.
The stories in Palo Alto are feeble attempts at expressing adolescent angst but end up being boring, trivial and trite. It's Bret Easton Ellis without the scathing social commentary. It's Catcher in the Rye without the oddly likable malcontent narrator. It's a number of nondescript stories with interchangeable, clichéd and totally unlikable narrators. It's like coffee without caffeine, fries without ketchup, peas without carrots. It's vapid and leaves the rader hungry for something hearty.
If there is a message or meaning to these stories (the half dozen that I read, at least) it’s lost on me. Each story tells of a teenager who goes out, gets drunk and/or stoned, and either has lots of unsafe safe sex or commits an act of senseless violence (and sometimes both). Again, this is not as exciting as it sounds. These subjects have been done before and Franco brings nothing new to the table. Worst of all, they SOUND like they were written by adolescents—and I do not mean this in a complementary manner. The language is simple and ineffective. The imagery is cliché and the “plots” are jumbled and irritating. A two year old cocker spaniel has better ear for dialogue. This book left me feeling nothing but contempt for each character presented and I feel dumber for having read this book (also, side note, the editor should be fired).
There's a saying in the literary world that a character is "too dumb to live." That would be every character in these stories. They all read like annoying parodies of the characters that Franco plays. There's no depth, no emotion and no teeth.
The real shame of this is that plenty of talented writers cover similar ground and do it much better and much more interestingly. The problem is, these people are not James and therefore, where he gets a book deal, they get rejection letters If these stories are indicative of Franco’s writing abilities, then he is clearly not talented or skilled—I don’t care what his degree or Amy Hempel say. I have read better stories in lower level creative writing college courses. At bare minimum, these stories read like rough drafts that are nowhere near ready for the world.
Not worth the time. Certainly not worth the purchase. “Palo Alto: Stories” by James Franco One of the worst collections I have ever read. Mr. Franco, put down that pen and paper. Please. I beg of you.
Writing/Editing Quality: 0/10
Entertainment quality: 4/20
Total Rating: 4/35