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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Review: PALO ALTO (By: James Franco)

Author: James Franco
Rating: 3.5/5

Simon & Schuster | October 19, 2010 | Hardcover

A fiercely vivid collection of stories about troubled California teenagers and misfits--violent and harrowing, from the astonishingly talented actor and artist James Franco.
Palo Alto is the debut of a surprising and powerful new literary voice. Written with an immediate sense of place--claustrophobic and ominous--James Franco''s collection traces the lives of an extended group of teenagers as they experiment with vices of all kinds, struggle with their families and one another, and succumb to self-destructive, often heartless nihilism. In "Lockheed" a young woman''s summer--spent working a dull internship--is suddenly upended by a spectacular incident of violence at a house party.  In "American History" a high school freshman attempts to impress a girl during a classroom skit with a realistic portrayal of a slave owner-only to have his feigned bigotry avenged. In "I Could Kill Someone," a lonely teenager buys a gun with the aim of killing his high school tormentor, but begins to wonder about his bully''s own inner life.
These linked stories, stark, vivid, and disturbing, are a compelling portrait of lives on the rough fringes of youth.


This debut collection of short stories, written by James Franco, is simply raw, unreal, and chilling. Each story takes the reader into the lives of these teenagers, placing their constant battles with friends, family, and their inner problems onto the page and into our homes. It is always easy to step outside of the ugly, pleading ignorance that these issues do not take place in the everyday lives of teens. What Franco is able to do through his story telling is make these lives real. Some of the stories falter at times, but as each story progresses into the next, the novel picks up significantly. Franco deals with issues that are completely raw and stripped down to their base. Story after story, Franco's confidence in his own writing ability begins to shine through. What starts off as lack luster and dull, ends up being significantly surprising and astounding. After the first few stories, I had trouble putting the book down and was able to finish it in one sitting.

He gives us issues of drug and alcohol abuse, sex, rape, sexuality, love, and death. Most of the stories are left with ambiguous endings, leaving the reader to put the pieces together and formulate their own ending. What happened to these characters once they escaped Palo Alto, or are they still there? Perhaps the most ambiguous of all stories is the last one in the collection, "Jack-O." Not only does this story question why people have issues with homosexuality, the ending is left open-ended. I think that was what I found beautiful. The idea of not knowing, just as we do not know our own futures. All we can do is make the best with what we have and strive for greater things. There are moments where some readers may find Franco's stories offensive. What they need to realize is that these stories are not meant to offend, rather they are meant to bring attention to things that go so often unnoticed.

The book is written in a style that holds close to the post-modern tradition. Each story is able to hold its own alone, but they work best as a unit with kids all trying to make it through high school in California. There are also times of fragmentation within the stories. The collection of stories also reads like a meta-narrative.

Although the collection was not all superb, Franco started off his career as a novelist in an extraordinary fashion. Palo Alto is a collection of short stories that you will be left pondering about for some time to come and speechless. 



  1. I will probably read this if only because it is James Franco and I am such a huge fan. Can't wait to see what kind of writing talent he has.

  2. Wow. I wasn't even aware that this was already out! haha. Thanks for the review. I may check it out. Eventually.


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