Palo Alto

David Haglund writes:

Franco, for all his obvious playfulness, is, at bottom, achingly sincere – nowhere more so than in his fiction. A couple of months after filming Erased James Franco, he enrolled on four MFA programmes: at Columbia and Brooklyn College for fiction, NYU for filmmaking, and the low-residency poetry course at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. The product of those first two courses is Palo Alto, a collection of 11 linked stories in which adolescents in the titular California town, where Franco grew up, express their desires to be other people. ‘I wish I was Mexican,’ one says, ‘or Hebrew, I mean Jewish, I mean Israeli, or Mexican Jewish, or Mexican Jewish gay, because it can be so boring being you sometimes, and if you were the most special thing like that, it could be really great.’ All the stories are narrated in the first person, and sound fairly similar; Franco’s attempt to capture the vocabulary and diction of teenagers is perhaps most awkward when it’s most accurate. One character writes on a wall near some train tracks: ‘shit fuck cock suck die ass nothingness meaningless cry’. ‘What does all that mean?’ his friend asks. ‘Nothing,’ he says. Sometimes the awkwardness is all Franco’s own: ‘The building is beige,’ one story reads, ‘but the shadows make it shadow-colour.’ That almost seems brilliant. Then it seems terrible again.

(LRB 17 March 2011)

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