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Palo Alto: Stories by James Franco

Palo Alto: Stories by James Franco

Ratings:

3.15

(33)
|Views: 13,117 |Likes:
Published by Simon and Schuster
A fiercely vivid collection of stories about troubled California teenagers and misfits--violent and harrowing, from the astonishingly talented actor and artist James Franco.

“[Franco] ends up perfectly mirroring the undulations of a teenage mind.”
-- The New York Times Book Review

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.
A fiercely vivid collection of stories about troubled California teenagers and misfits--violent and harrowing, from the astonishingly talented actor and artist James Franco.

“[Franco] ends up perfectly mirroring the undulations of a teenage mind.”
-- The New York Times Book Review

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.

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Publish date: Jun 7, 2011
Added to Scribd: Jul 17, 2012
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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08/25/2014

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More Praise for
PALO ALTO
“The stories are raw and funny-sad, and they capture with perfectpitch the impossible exhilaration, the inevitable downbeat-ness,and the pure confusion of being an adolescent. . . . Franco hasa air for creating these stopped moments that lift a story fromits specic setting into a universal place, so that particular mean-ings resonate out from themselves and redouble their effect.”
 — 
 Elle 
“Delightfully coarse, rifng dialogue that hones in on subjectslike race and sex, love and violence . . . Compelling and gutsy.”
 — 
Vogue 
“Franco writes with such deep empathy and afnity that onehas to wonder if he lived this life.”
 — 
USA Today 
“You’ll be able to pick out Franco’s inuences: RaymondCarver’s tight-lipped stoicism; the sun-streaked disaffectionof 
Less Than Zero
. . . Hubert Selby Jr.’s
Last Exit to Brooklyn 
.. . . He excels at dialogue.
 —Salon.com
“In ‘I Could Kill Someone’ especially, about a high schooler’sdeliberations over murdering a bully, there is an element of sympathy for the tormented narrator that makes his thoughtprocess real and frightening. . . . Franco is a serious writer.
 — 
The Wall Street Journal 
 
PALO ALTO
stories
James Franco
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Activity (275)

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xxivspirit added this note
beautiful
richardderus reviewed this
Rated 4/5
Rating: 3.875* of fiveThe Book Report: Sixteen short stories about adolescent life in upper middle class America. The author hailing from there, he's written about Palo Alto, California. It could as easily be Cedar Park, Texas, or Rockville Centre, New York. The stories are very much in the vein of adolescence itself, working the same nerve in me as adolescents do: Getting drunk, getting high, hooking up, wondering if you're the only one, being ostracized, being Too Cool for School, realizing you're filled with rage but not knowing why or what you're raging against.My Review: I hear people say their high school or college years were so great, so amazing, The Best Years of My Life, and I think, “What planet are YOU from?” I hated adolescence, and I still do. Clearasil and hormones and emotional devastation. Ugh, no thanks, I been there and feel lucky to have escaped at all, though certainly scathed. So why read this collection of explicitly adolescence-themed stories? Because James Franco is an artist whose work I find really compelling. If you haven't watched 127 Hours, do. This man isn't just another pretty face, he's got what the Finns call sisu. (Google it, the explanation would take too much space in a short review.) The Academy Awards show he couldn't pull off, but movies yes, and writing yes.His writing is very good. It's not tricky, or show-offy, or self-conscious. It's direct and it's clear and it's nuanced. He uses words the way cops use fingerprint powder, to show you the shape of his ideas without getting you all greasy with hand-sweat and forehead blood. Make no mistake, it's not easy getting words down to this level of fineness, it takes mental grinding and grinding and grinding until there isn't a lump or a clot or a chunk to be seen. Silky, smooth, sensually exciting as it flows past you to take coherent shape in front of you: Stories, people, goddamned annoying kids formed of smoke and ash and powder, living in flashes of lightning—your attention please, there is something interesting happening over here, and if we're lucky, this thirtysomething writer will give us more. Soon.
alono_3 reviewed this
Rated 4/5
James Franco is one of those super-multi-talented people that makes you feel bad because you haven't acheived anything in life and in comparison to him, never will. He's a famous actor, having played the bad boy on Freaks and Geeks and most recently seen on the big screen cutting his arm off in 127 hours and being Allen Ginsberg in Howl. He's a painter, he's ridiculously attractive and he's got a masters degree. Wotta man. But don’t let that put you off reading his book. As part of the aforementioned degree, Franco wrote a series of short stories meditating on the lives of teenagers in the American town of Palo Alto. And so Palo Alto the book came about. It’s really very easy to read, with the simplicity of the writing reflecting the naivety of most of the characters. It is about bad kids struggling to be good, or maybe it is about good kids struggling to be bad. It is about the things kids get up to in a small town, like drinking and smoking and making friends and going to parties and more drinking and making a move on that guy/girl you like and getting into trouble with the cops or school or your parents and generally trying not to be a weirdo that everybody hates. I enjoyed every story in the book, despite the recklessness , but some of the plots or events in different stories were very similar. People get run over by cars on multiple occasions. Which leads me to conclude that Franco ran over someone with a car once and is pretty hung up about it. But that’s okay because it makes for some interesting reading.
xxivspirit liked this
jasonpettus reviewed this
Rated 3/5
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)When I heard that dreamy actor and Renaissance man James Franco had published a story collection, I knew that I would eventually be reading it; and that's because I have a perverse fascination for celebrities with literary aspirations, and so try never to miss it when someone like Ethan Hawke or Jewel releases not a cookbook or kid's tale but an honest-to-God attempt at the fine arts. And the good news here is that Franco is actually not that bad a writer, with this interrelated "story cycle" regarding trashy '90s teenagers in southern California going down quite smoothly; but unfortunately, it also highlights the main reason I'm not much of a fan of the short-story format in general, in that these quick character studies all tend to be done and over long before we're able to make an emotional connection to any of them, stories designed more for atmosphere and mood than for telling an interesting narrative tale. For this alone, we can at least thank Franco for not foisting yet another unreadable book upon a helpless audience; but given that it's no different than a million character-heavy story collections put together as final projects by a million mediocre creative-writing undergraduates, Palo Alto is unfortunately not much of a reason to celebrate either.Out of 10: 7.5
bdusch_1 reviewed this
Who other than acclaimed actor James Franco could write a collection of stories so simple written yet effectively delivered? In his collection of these stories, Franco tells stories of violence, brutality, and above... the wild ride that is adolescence. The city Palo Alto, California (which is Franco's hometown) is a center for discussion in most of these stories and usually play a keen role.
ericnguyen09_1 reviewed this
Rated 1/5
Amy Hempel lied to me. Also: so did Susan Minot, Darcey Steinke, Ben Marcus, and Gary Shteyngart. It was in the back of James Franco's debut collection, Palo Alto, where Hempel said Franco wrote "quotable, unsettling stories," Susan Minot said "Franco is a writer of skill and sensitivity," and Gary Shteyngart said "As a writer, he's here to stay."I got the book, eagerly anticipating an author who knows the rhytmn of words, the way to really write a short story. I opened it pen in hand to underline passages. What I found was an utter disappointment.Palo Alto is a collection of semi-interconnected stories set in Franco's hometown of Palo Alto. For those of you who don't know, Palo Alto is in California. The majority of people there are white, if not Asian. The median income is $119,046. Just background information. Palo Alto the book, follows the teenage lives of a group of friends as they try to navigate their middle class ennui through sex and drugs.Some of the stories are excessively explicit, easily comparable (based on content alone) to the likes of Dennis Cooper (Ben Marcus calls him that). For example, "Chinatown" tells the story how the narrator turns a half-Vietnamese girl into the town's slut:"Pam came over. I got her into Jason's parents' bed. I got her naked. She wasn't even drinking. The guys line up outside the bedroom. We went in, two and three at a time. Everyone fucked her. She got really messy. Some of the guys were so smelly. The room smelled like oysters."The events are semi-ridiculous and told in a quiet distanced voice. Other stories have the same dead-pan tone while describing these kids' search for something to do. In "Killing Animals," the boys go on a hunting spree in the city. In "Lockheed," the narrator becomes fascinated with the killing of a boy at a party. Violence, death, and sex is everywhere and Franco seems to be trying to make a statement: in an age of ennui, we look to express ourselves in extremes. Or perhaps, in the age of ennui, even shock does not shock us: "In ninth grade we watched a lot of Holocaust stuff. We saw pictures and then a film of the naked bodies being bulldozed. Penises on the men and vaginas and breasts on women. They didn't seem like real penises. I looked close. Some were big."Yet Dennis Cooper he is not. Kathy Acker he is not. Bret Easton Ellis he is not.The difference between Cooper et al and Franco is that the formers not only shocked, they experimented with style, they knew prose was something powerful and that sex and violence needed to be explored further. Franco, on the other hand, lacks skills. Beyond the sex and violence is simple shock factor. Educated with multiple MFAs, hobnobbing with minimalists such as Mona Simpson and Amy Hempel (his acknowledgement page is name dropping vomit), Franco's work tries desperately to pay tribute to Raymond Carver and Denis Johnson, but instead fails. Franco's prose is off-rhytmn, they're mouthfulls that rubs in your head the wrong way.From "Killing Animals": "He got cherry flavor. It came in a red wrapper....We walked back eating our pies. They were crescent shaped and glazed."From "Emily": "He jumped in the pool and he was in the pool, swimming around naked."From "Chinatown": "When we got older, I did things in my life and she did things in her life."Franco's prose is vague, yet not the same vague as say Justin Taylor's debut (also this year), whose title is Everything Here Is The Best Thing Ever. The vague prose in Palo Alto is unearned.Arguably, Tao Lin explores the same and his writing has the same types of grammatical loops. Yet Tao Lin (despite being annoying), has humor. Tao Lin is his own thing. He stands on the shoulders of Ann Beattie and Lydia Davis. Tao Lin's work is a painful statement about culture. Franco is plain painful.Maybe one or two of the stories here are something almost remarkable (for example, the opening story "Halloween"). Yet when read together, it's mundane. The effect pierces the brain. You grow bored.Franco stories can be summed up like this:"I had my first drink when I was thirteen, and in the three years since then we had been taking from his cupboard and putting water back into the bottles.""He has a big dick.""Jewish, Russian, Jewish, Italian, half Korean/half white."These phrases are not from one story, but are re-used throughout the book. While this might work in some collections, using key phrases to emphasis themes, Franco doesn't have enough skill to pull it off. His stories are too similar to each other. His narrators (they're voices, not characters--characters imply personality) sound the same despite being different people. His description skill obviously go as far as race (and it does get to the point of racism [I'm not talking about the "N" word in "American History"]; even minimalists had a way of describing things), or else they try to uplift the usual (for example a red wrapper) into a symbol but fail completely: his observations are bland. (Can someone with a good-upbringing and money truly write anything that is not bland? I've always believed that you really need to be truly fucked up in the head to write anything worth reading...)Fact is, Franco got this book published because of his fame. Unfortunately, Franco wasn't smart enough to hire a ghost writer (who would probably have more skill). Also, Amy Hempel has bad taste.
goodinthestacks reviewed this
Rated 4/5
I like James Franco. He's acted in many of my favorite TV shows and movies and he's done a good job in them. I knew that he was a smart guy from hearing him in interviews and from those interviews I had learned that he was more than an actor, but also an artist and a writer, and he seems to do well there too, which is not always the case for famous celebrities.I enjoyed this collection of intertwined short stories but I think it may have been more so because I feel like I could have written it myself. I'm not saying Franco's prose is bad (I'm also not saying that mine is great), but rather it is similar to things that I have written in the past. This is especially true when the characters are angsty teens. Franco does well with this voice, but the problem is that it is the same disillusioned voice for all characters, both male and female. Again, for me, this is not bad, but if Franco continues with his writing career, he should explore other characters besides angry, smart, and mostly privileged teens because he knows this person too well. But that is really my only problem with the book. I recommend this if you are interested in interconnected short stories, angst-ridden teens, and/or James Franco.
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