Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Book Review: "Palo Alto: Stories" by James Franco

People in the public eye are always looking for the next big thing. Singers want to act, actors want to direct or sing, and they all want to write a novel. Add James Franco to that literary list. Franco, who has acted in movies and on General Hospital, made a short film and went back to school to get his master's degree, recently published Palo Alto, a collection of 11 linked short stories about teenagers growing up in (where else?) Palo Alto. I'm a big James Franco fan, but most of the stories in this collection make me think he should stick to acting.

The collection started out with a few promising stories. In "Lockheed," a very intelligent young girl is stuck in a boring summer internship and then she witnesses a disturbing act of violence at a party she shouldn't even have attended. "American History" tells the story of a student who feigns racism in a class assignment to impress a girl, only to have it backfire. But beyond that, every story is about rootless, self-absorbed and self-destructive teenagers who resort to drugs, violence, sex and, in one story, sexual abuse, to pass the time. I know that Franco was probably trying to make a statement about these kids needing direction, needing something concrete and worthwhile to fill their days, but I honestly felt very little empathy for most of the characters. Instead of exploring why a narrator of one of the stories would want to crash his car into an abutment, Franco sensationalizes it and turns it into a joke afterward.

I believe Franco's writing shows promise, but honestly, I think that this collection got published mainly because he is James Franco. I'm not a squeamish person, but the excess of drugs, violence, abusive language, animal cruelty, sex and reprehensible behavior became tremendously unappealing very quickly.

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