Before reading any of James Franco's work, I asked around at work to see if anyone had any suggestions on where to start. Our system claimed that we only had Palo Alto (which was always "missing", also known as stolen) and Actor's Anonymous, with it's gold and black dust jacket finished with that awful substance that "always makes the book look dirty" as one person I work with lamented. When I finally did find someone who had read Palo Alto, he gave me such a perfect eye roll that made it obvious that he'd been hanging out with me for too long. Between scoffs and grimaces, it was if Palo Alto had put him through a recreation of Lamentations; he was an inch away from gnashing his teeth when he told me " Palo Alto is completely unreadable." Between this and the completely unforgiving Goodreads reviews, being unbiased to Franco was not easy. While I do like to play Devil's Advocate, it's not easy to willingly back a man filled with money from the beginning with a history of making movies with a level of humour that my British comedic sense cannot grasp. Actor, director, "poet", "writer", what else is next? Will his next audition be for the position of nanny to the Upper East Side?
The most important question though, is whether or not James Franco is serious. Is he playing a role, which I suspected after the first few pages of Actor's Anonymous, or is he dead serious? A few of my coworkers just think he's successfully trolled me. The plots with more holes than Quebec roads, characters with the depth and personality of a plastic spoon, and incomplete style have confused me. Are you doing this on purpose, knowing that even if you write crap that a high school teacher would flunk you for that you will still be able to be published and sell (especially to a certain group that isn't going to really read your book anyways)? Or do you really think you're the evolution of writing? God help us if it's the later.
Palo Alto is the definition of hit and miss. Combined with me not really being able to tell if Franco is using this unpolished voice purposefully and the same sob story of children in favourable situations doing foolishness, I can't take this collection of short stories in it's entirety seriously. While for some the unpolished style works, for others (like myself) it leaves the stories with void plots and characters with only ethnic definition. I know many people have written off Palo Alto as completely unreadable, but the opening stories were honestly not that bad. Palo Alto is everything I love to hate about the suburban white and upper-middle-class teenager; a bunch of kids sitting around with no broughtupsy and the key to Daddy's liquor cabinet.
On the back of Palo Alto, Franco's collection of short stories are referred to as "spare" by O the Oprah Magazine, "startling" by The Economist, and "gutsy" by Vogue. Franco, with "an MFA in creative writing" as the jacket boasts, is the reason why I don't feel like going to school for writing. The stories collected in Palo Alto for the most part are so incomplete and full of redundant fluff that it's startling, the choppy ending and loose plot lines make giving this to a publisher a real gutsy move (but obvious, because a publishing house with the intention to make money would not turn this down). Spare yourself and don't bother reading to the halfway mark.
As for Actor's Anonymous, I barely finished it. Coworkers and fellow reviewers who are a bit more familiar with Hollywood and it's history with actors appreciated it much more than I did, but it wasn't enough for them to like it. Actor's Anonymous can be summed up like this: I picked it back up about a third through the book during an extremely boring lecture, flew through six chapters, and threw it back in my bag so that I could take notes because I realized that was the lesser of two evils. I feel like that alone is enough of a review. I would rather sit through an hour of a lecture that felt like pulling teeth to take notes (an entire A4 page in my small 0.5mm handwriting at that) while the lecturer was interrupted at every inclination of a pause so that some wise crack or irrelevant question could be posed instead of read garbage. I refuse to acknowledge either of these in my 50 Books in 52 Weeks project.
Palo Alto ★★
Actors Anonymous ★
Labels: actors anonymous, james franco, palo alto