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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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