Thursday, October 28, 2010

Palo Alto: Stories, James Franco

In the past, many artists (actors, comedians, etc) have created a double for themselves. Most recently, Joaquin Phoenix comes to mind. But, one can look back to Andy Kaufmann, too. In fact, I’m sure there are plenty of famous people who have recreated themselves. For entertainment or for escape.

While reading James Franco’s short story collection, Palo Alto, I started to wonder if this is another one of those examples. Recently, Franco has gone back to school for creative writing and acting. Also, he starred on the ABC soap General Hospital for a bit. What makes a world famous movie star work backwards in their career? There is nothing wrong with one’s desire for education. But, there is certainly a scratch your head kind of behavior at play.

On to the short story collection. Remember writing notes in high school and junior high? The way everything was a little over the top and the sentences were short and to the point? Well, these short stories are written a bit like those notes. All the details of a wild weekend or a dramatic night written down without much purpose other than to share.

Franco’s way of writing is memory based. At times, I admire the ability to remember. The awkwardness of youth. Franco remembers this so well. For that I give him credit. But, does one need eleven short stories showing off the writer’s great memory?

The actions of these stories are not shocking for me to read. I wonder if Franco is writing for an older crowd? For the group of people so far removed from their youth? Franco writes these stories as if he wants to shock you. He writes of stoned teens, young girls in orgies, underage drunk drivers, and boys who scream racist/homophobic slurs without really understanding their meaning. These stories do not shock. They’re just a slight re-telling of most childhoods. Or, at least mine. Am I revealing too much?

The one story I want to respect is ‘Halloween.’ The story of an underage drunk driver who hits and kills a woman on Halloween night. Most of the story is unnecessary. But, in this story, at the end we see the narrator from the point of view as an adult. The narrator realizes the memory of this event is almost fully emptied from his mind. There is something so honest and harsh about this reality. About how the awful things can be pushed aside. Other than this story, the rest fall flat and the substance is missing.

Like the drunk driver, I plan to forget most of these stories ever happened.


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