April 26, 2011 by markstani
As part of The Collection Giveaway Project, organised by Erika Dreifus at The Fiction Writers’ Review, and promoted by The Short Review, I will give away a free copy of James Franco’s Palo Alto on May 31 to one person who comments on my review. Also, note the link to a temporarily free download of my own collection of short stories, Fryupdale, to the right of this post.
James Franco’s Palo Alto is as shocking a portrayal of adolescence as I’ve read in a long time. It would be easy to be contemptuous: here’s a good-looking Hollywood star writing paens of teenage ultra-angst. Honest, I don’t give much of a shit who James Franco is. All I know is he can write. They’re tough, fractured tales almost entirely devoid of characterization. The narrators all sound the same. They toss subjects like roach butts. The stories kind of bleed into one. They never finish with a nice pretty bow tied on top. To me, it just adds to the bleakness. One of the best and bleakest, Chinatown, ends:
‘When we got older, I did things in my life and she did things in her life’.
It’s full of casual sex and random violence. The shocking thing is maybe how much you can relate to these characters. Throw yourself back and it’s easy to feel their pain. Easy to imagine being the bullied guy in ‘I Could Kill Someone’ who gets a gun and fantasizes over shooting his jock tormentor. Don’t let the prudes put you off. Criticising the content in Palo Alto is a bit like trying to deny that the folk in Huck Finn’s Deep South ever used the n-word.
Some don’t really hit the mark. Funny, they’re mostly the ones that grasp for meaning or metaphors, like the old folks’ home sketch in April. Overall, it’s one big tough take on the time of all our lives. More disturbing, I’d say, than going to the cinema and watching a guy have to cut his own arm off.