Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

"Palo Alto" by James Franco (Faber, 2011)

Having read the first 2 stories I was ready to abandon this book (the "Faber" brand name isn't always a guarantee of quality), but the 3rd and 4th stories, "American History" and "Killing Animals" (containing "The streets were an empty stage set. All the rules of the daytime were gone" (p.41) and "Some people when they were young shot deer, and foxes. Faulkner shot a bear, Hemingway shot lions and a lot of things. Gangs shoot people for initiation./ We shot animals and people. But they were small animals, and we didn't kill anyone" (p.55)), were much better. With the 5th story, "Emily", the quality dips again.

The stories, which feature a common pool of youths, all have the same flat style - e.g.

  • "Mr. B was my soccer coach. His first name was Terry, and his last name was Brodsky. He'd been "Mr. B" for years, he said. He was forty-two" (p.130)
  • "Caffe Buon" ends with "When we got older, I did things in my life and she did things in her life"

We always know whether a character is handsome/cute, though detailed description of anyone or anything is lacking. The stories contain many events and anecdotes though, and these have a cumulative effect, eventually winning me over.

Other reviews

  • goodreads
  • Alex Thornber (The Short Review) (This collection could maybe have done with a little editing, and there are a few random words which sneak in like a rogue automatic thesaurus which can be a little strange when uttered by a violent teenager, but aside from that this is an excellent debut collection of stories)
  • The Guardian (Franco locates the adolescent voice by stripping back his prose and keeping lyrical flights to a minimum. This plays to his strengths. At its most understated, his writing is fleet and often penetrating. ... When he does occasionally let fly, it can result in a confused tangle.)
  • New York Times (Its best entry is “American History,” ... His characters are bored, ambivalent, confused, and certainly these generalities can encapsulate adolescence. But the male narrator of “Halloween” sounds suspiciously like the female lead of “Lockheed,” who bears a pungent resemblance to the main player in “Chinatown in Three Parts.” To exclude the specifics of these characters’ emotional lives is a cop-out.)

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