Palo Alto Book Review

When I heard that James Franco was writing a book of short stories, I was super excited to read it.  First of all, I think he’s a brilliant actor with a wide range of abilities…so I figured his writing must be similar…weird, yet strangely entertaining.  The last thing I was expecting from this book was a trip back to Creative Writing 101.

Palo Alto:  Stories depicts the confused experiences of teenagers in Palo Alto, California.  The characters are often driven to violent ends because of a lack of self-esteem or self-worth.  Infatuations, drunkenness, boredom, and sexual frustration are themes in his collection, highlighting the major theme that growing up is stressful and painful.  While I wasn’t moved or impressed by many of the stories, I will say that Franco’s attention to character voice was fantastic.  Every story read as if a teenager actually wrote it, complete with the jargon and slang of middle school life.

I was perhaps most frustrated with the lack of resolution in the series of stories.  Time after time these characters perform inhumane acts of violence and greed, but never learn anything from their mistakes.  Holden Caulfield kept wandering in and out of my mind as I made my way through the collection as Franco’s “muse” for Palo Alto.  His frustration with life, love, and acceptance in Catcher in the Rye are mirrored in many of Franco’s characters.

If I had to pick one story in the collection, I’d recommend “Tar Baby”.  I thought it was the most creative and engrossing of all of Franco’s works.  Alone this story shows what a great writer Franco can be…if only he wrote outside of the lines a little bit more.

NEXT WEEK:  Death.  It doesn’t have to be boring.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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