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Palo Alto: Stories Hardcover – October 19, 2010

174 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Given that Franco could have opted to coast by on movie star mystique, the decision to write about the suburb of his upbringing is intriguing. But the author fails to find anything remotely insightful to say in these 11 amazingly underwhelming stories. The privileged, borderline sociopathic eighth-grade consciousness into which stories like "Killing Animals" and "Tar Baby" consign us is saturated in first-wave Nintendo games and an egregiously gleeful dosage of homophobia and puerile race-baiting that is exhausting, even in a collection where the average story is 10 pages long. Still, tales like "Camp" and the above-average "American History" manage to successfully construe bad-kid amorality as authenticity, which is more than can be said of "I Could Kill Someone," one of several stories that reads like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho fell into a Catcher in the Rye remix, or the colossal misfire that constitutes "Emily," written from the point of view of a teenage girl who performs carnal acts on every page. The overall failure of this collection has nothing to do with its side project status and everything to do with its inability to grasp the same lesson lost on its gallery of high school reprobates: there is more to life than this.
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From Booklist

A certain amount of skepticism accompanies the reading of a movie star’s short story collection. Are they worthy of publication? Would I read them if written by someone else? The stories in Palo Alto depict the confused experiences of teenagers in Palo Alto, California. The characters surprise with their maturity then devolve into moments of violent stupidity. Their beautiful lack of self-awareness drives the stories. In Killing Animals, Franco deftly addresses race as some wannabe delinquents find themselves in over their heads. Infatuations, drunkenness, and boredom find space throughout the collection. Each story’s simplicity belies complexity of emotion and maturation. Franco conveys something we all know but enjoy hearing again: growing up is painful yet wonderful. The deceptive simplicity also masks the complexity of Franco’s writing. His economic construction seems so simple throughout, but the stories end up approaching profundity. These stories were not published because James Franco is a movie star but because they are good. He makes the difficult appear simple, which only a talented writer can do. --Blair Parsons

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (October 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439163146
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439163146
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (174 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #738,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

James Franco is an actor, director, screenwriter, and artist. His film appearances include "Milk," "Pineapple Express," the "Spider-Man" trilogy, and upcoming appearances in "Eat, Pray, Love," and "Howl," in which he portrays beat poet Allen Ginsberg. On television, he starred in the critically acclaimed series "Freaks and Geeks." Franco has also written, directed and starred in several short plays, two of which -- "Fool's Gold" and "The Ape" -- he adapted into feature-length films. He also wrote and directed the film "Good Time Max." Franco will be participating in an upcoming gallery show at Deitch Projects in New York, and his writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, McSweeney's, and other publications

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

147 of 180 people found the following review helpful By J. Avery on October 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I'm pretending hunkosaurus Franco didn't write this. Moving on.

This is the stuff of every Creative Writing class you took as an undergrad. It's all Holden Caulfield crabby and Bret Easton Ellis name-droppy; gruesome with those obnoxious one-liner sentences that are meant to be profound in their brevity. The racial issues are slapped on strangely, and the tone is mushy oatmeal bland. "Killing Animals" was worth reading, but even then, it feels like Ellis fan fiction.

Now I'm pretending Franco did write them. Look my man, you have many rich and successful friends. Many of whom are writers who like you because you're a cool dude. You're also a hunk. This is working against you. If my mom wrote a book called "imma Real Gud Mama", I'd tell her she was the next Faulkner.

Get some unbiased advice, sweetheart. And call me.
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182 of 225 people found the following review helpful By Tyler Jones on October 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm frankly shocked by the positive reviews already posted for this collection of stories by James Franco. I was hoping to avoid making the obvious statement, but I feel there's no way around it - this book never would have seen the light of day if Franco was not an actor.

I don't know much about acting, but I realize it involves inhabiting the psyche of a single person for the duration of a film. Writing however, involves probing the minds of multiple characters and keeping track of their personalities and the stories in which they are a part of. Franco may be a competent actor, but he is no writer.

These stories, averaging ten pages each, constitute some of the worst writing I've ever had the displeasure to read. Not only are they bad, they are offensive in almost every regard. If you are going to subject your audience to teenagers engaged in horrific and senseless sexual behavior and acts of violence, you better have some damn good prose to make it all seem surreal.

Franco writes in a pseudo-minimalist style that is trying to be some sort of Denis Johnson/Raymond Carver hybrid, but acheives neither. Johnson is incredibly poetic and incisive while creating characters we actually care about. Franco's bunch of degenerates have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. They are lost and hopeless, but unfortunately they are never tragic. Tragic would imply that these people are aware of how lost they are.

Take any Carver story and look at the emotion evoked by these poor wretched people just barely scraping by. This is because Carver cares about his characters, he wants to see them do what's right even though he knows they won't.

I went into this book with an open mind. I wanted to like it. I was hoping that Franco would impress me.
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79 of 97 people found the following review helpful By A fellow with a keyboard on September 30, 2012
Format: Paperback
James Franco does not want to be considered an actor. He wants to be considered a polymath and an "artist." He is enrolled in something like six highly prestigious graduate programs, including one for filmmaking, one for fiction, one for poetry, one for design, one for creative writing, and a couple for English literature. You would think this would qualify him to write a book.

But there's a problem. The planet's brightest students have to crawl over broken glass to complete one of these graduate programs. How is it possible that Franco can do six at the same time? There are several possibilities. Maybe Franco really is the second coming of Leonardo da Vinci. But here's a line from one of his short stories: "The building is beige, but the shadows make it shadow-color." So maybe not.

It's more likely that Franco is riding some sort of grotesque wave of snowballing prestige, one that attempts to shield him from his quite evident averageness. It's been said that his classmates feel protective of him. In other words, they like him, they're charmed by him, they're pleased to have him in their midst, and they want to shield him from the fact that he's in a million miles over his head.

Franco is unique, but in a totally typical way. He is the cartoonish example of the high-achieving young person who takes 15 AP classes and does 20 extracurriculars in order to look impressive and gain status and admission and acceptance. But it isn't possible to do that many things with any sort of skill or competence. The result is a book that is so vapid and soulless and contrived as to be hard to look at.
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42 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Leemon on March 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I came across the title PALO ALTO and thought it interesting since I reluctantly moved there as an early teenager and thankfully got out of there as soon as I graduated high school. When I realized it was written by James Franco, who, personally, I don't like or dislike, I was looking forward to a good read. Unfortunately, it wasn't a good read. It wasn't even an ok read. It was the same character pretending to be different characters telling different stories with the same tone and same language. It got quite boring and pointless after the 4th story. The only intriguing thing to me was that there was a lot of name dropping of places and streets in and around Palo Alto. Oh yeah, I remember the Bat Cave! Though I thought it was "The Path" where you could sneak a smoke (and catch your teacher too). I'm just a few years older than Franco and I certainly didn't experience teenage debauchery to this extent.

Palo Alto is a super wealthy and super conservative suburb full of doctors and Stanford professors. Most of the houses are enormous and expensive, half the cars are Mercedes, and the schools are exceptional because the city is loaded. A lot of teenagers became bored of being well to do and having status and high educational expectations to live up to. This didn't come across much at all in the book. These characters just seemed like average, stupid, overly sexed teenagers.

Aside from the location references, why was it even called Palo Alto?
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