Customer Reviews: Palo Alto: Stories
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on October 26, 2010
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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on September 30, 2012
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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on March 15, 2011
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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on December 25, 2010
This is moth-eaten Bret Easton Ellis, 3rd rate high-school stuff that wouldn't have been published if the author wasn't a movie star. The stories are full of adolescent violence and have no beauty, muscle, or point. Publishing them is an act of unethical self-indulgence on someone's part; everyone who bought this should get a refund!
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on October 20, 2013
James Franco is a marginally talented actor. Beyond his work in Freaks and Geeks, though, I have not really been a fan. When I saw this book at my local library, however, I thought it would be an interesting read. When I saw that he obtained his MFA at Columbia and was taught by none other than Amy Hempel, I figured it had to be decent.

I was wrong. So wrong and Palo Alto: Stories is now only the second book I have voluntarily not finished.

The stories are feeble attempts at expressing adolescent angst but end up being boring, trivial and trite. It's Bret Easton Ellis without the scathing social commentary. It's a number of nondescript stories with interchangeable, cliched and totally unlikable narrators.

I have read better stories in lower level creative writing courses. If James Franco wasn't James Franco, these stories would rightfully be gathering dust somewhere far far away.

Not worth the time. Certainly not worth the purchase. One of the worst collections I have ever read. Stay away.
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on January 26, 2014
If you looked at most of the stories in Palo Alto (with one notable exception I'll mention in a moment) on their own, you'd find them to be passable enough, I suppose. Yes, it all feels a little bit like someone attempting to capture the excess and amorality of a Bret Easton Ellis in a high school setting, but the writing isn't bad (though it undeniably needs work) and the ideas are interesting. But when you read Palo Alto from front to back, it becomes a chore - a repetitive, dull slog, one in which every story is almost identical, every character indistinguishable, the excesses dull through monotony, the plots non-existent or negligible...and so on, on and on and on and on. The further I got into Palo Alto, the more frustrated I got with the book, as every character spoke identically, acted identically, and brought nothing really of interest to the table. And yet, every once in a while, there's a fine moment scattered in Palo Alto - a moment of nice loneliness in "Lockheed," an instant of self-reflection in "I Could Kill Someone" - and that's enough to make it all the more infuriating. Because it's obvious that Franco is capable of better than you see for most of Palo Alto. And if you really doubt it - and trust me, by the end of this deadeningly dull march through tedious debauchery, you will - check out "Yellowstone," the final story in the collection. After dozens of tales of bad behavior and immorality, Franco presents the story of a young boy on a trip with his father and his younger brother, and gives you something genuinely surprising: a human, honest moment. And while it makes all the difference in the world in terms of what I thought Franco was capable of, it's in no way good enough to salvage the rest of Palo Alto. "Yellowstone" may be a good piece of work, but the rest? Just awful.
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on February 7, 2011
I had the experience (I had originally typed "pleasure" but I realize that would be dishonest of me) of reading Franco's "Into the Black" (re-named "Jack-O" for the book) in Esquire during my final year as an undergraduate creative writing major. Reading that story, knowing it had been published in such an esteemed magazine by an unknown writer, was like being punched in the face by someone wearing a large high school ring on each finger who had recently completely his lavatory hygiene with that same fist.

The "black gaping gap" line is missing from the book, however the prose maintains the choppy, voiceless, faux-80's-minimalism of that piece throughout. I recommend to anyone considering a purchase: go online, read "Into the Black." If you love it then hey, good for you, James has a fan. If not, don't bother, unless you are like me and feel the need to masochistically go through it all with a red pen.

Franco is a fine writer if your standards are "Creative Writing Intermediate Class." These stories would not have wowed me in an advanced or master class and they certainly do not merit publishing. It is an insult to writing students everywhere to see this in print, especially lauded by Amy Hempel and Mona Simpson (those endorsements almost made me cry). It is clear that if, like the rest of us, Franco had taken a four-year program, he could emerge as a decent writer. However his experience is slapdash and copycat and it shows. I have read far, far better stories by my peers and it is beyond frustrating knowing how hard they will have to work to ever see their work as exposed as Franco's. I cannot believe that Yale has accepted him as an English PhD student.

On a side note, a friend pointed out that Franco's name is the same size as the title on the front cover, and we all had a good laugh.
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on January 20, 2012
This book should be read by every aspiring writer as an example of how quickly fiction can turn to self-indulgent, masturbatory, soulless drivel when written without any deep sense of conviction and spirit and only for fame and self-gratification.
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on November 1, 2010
Three things quickly become evident when reading James Franco's short story collection 'Palo Alto' (2010). First, that Mr. Franco has attended a number of creative writing classes. Next, that Franco writes well on a line-by-line basis; lastly, that 'Palo Alto' would have absolutely no chance of being published were Franco not a talented, world-famous actor, a spokesmodel, a sex symbol, and a celebrity.

The essential problem with the 'Palo Alto' stories is that Franco really has nothing to say; in terms of plot, he has only one, which all the stories are a variation of: a mentally-sluggish and emotionally stunted young person has a violent encounter, and then drifts on with his or her life.

Even the most prototypical of these stories, which may be the opener, 'Halloween,' is not interesting or engaging on any level. On Halloween night, a young man on his way to confront his girlfriend, who he believes is becoming involved with other young men, hits a woman with his car, but drives away. Ten years on, he remembers the accident whenever passing the location where the hit-and-run occurred, but later still, thinks of it only as an afterthought.

On the page, Franco's voice resembles a confident combination of early John Updike and middle-period Raymond Carver, while the bitter, sardonic ghost of Bret Easton Ellis hovers just out of sight.

When and if Franco has something substantial to say, he may become a writer of considerable talent. At present, however, 'Palo Alto' serves as a limited window into Franco's mind and little more. As such, many of his fans will want to read the book, but as fiction of weight and merit, the volume fails completely.

In light of Franco's recent extremely high media profile, readers who dislike the book shouldn't rule out the possibility that Franco knows 'Palo Alto' is poor and has pressed to have the book published for inscrutable reasons of his own; it may be that Franco has viewed the book's entire publishing cycle as a test of his personal power or merely as 'performance art' of a different variety.
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on June 5, 2013
I can't say I expected tons from James Franco. The transition from actor to author isn't usually an easy one to make.

This book is basically a collection of a dozen stories, usually around 10 pages or so each, sometimes broken into a few parts, about growing up in Palto Alto, California. The stories range from the sexual records of pre-teens to stories of near-rape, violence, and lots of legal violations. I can't say this book was anything short of exciting. Didn't have me flipping through the pages, anxious for the next story to begin, but I was able to get through the whole thing feeling reasonably entertained.

James Franco did do a pretty decent job of capturing teen attitudes and how strongly they vary depending on the person. I could feel the infatuation rising off some of the characters, the misery when stuck in the slump of depression, the desperation and fear of getting in trouble with parents, police, teachers. He portrayed the racism, sexism and ugly thoughts running through many kids' heads, even if they know what they're thinking is wrong.

It was an interesting premise--taking a town you grew up in and writing about it in a candid, honest way, as Franco delivered to his readers. We got to delve into his memories, readers can be reasonably sure Franco was describing a detailed account of his own childhood, along with many of his friends' and girlfriends'. His attitude towards Palto Alto (less than affectionate) was a refreshing change from the nostalgia and patriotism many people feel towards their hometowns.

Great premise, poor delivery.

The execution of Palo Alto was awful. Many of the incidents were over-dramatized and saturated with unrealistic material. Basically it's a bunch of kids, most under 15 (eighth-graders), smoking, drinking, having sex at wild all-night parties, driving around recklessly, and breaking so many laws they face community service, jail time and mean probation officers. One thought running through my mind throughout the book was, WHERE ARE YOUR PARENTS?? Who lets their kids mess up this bad before even hitting puberty? Adults had less than a starring role in this story, if you're a fan of strong parental guidance, I wouldn't recommend this book.

Some of the stories were extremely lewd ("Chinatown") and others were downright unbelievable ("Camp"). One particularly annoying habit James Franco had was trying too hard to be insightful and deep. He included lots of little unnecessary details meant to be touching, but instead falling flat.

Another thing that can really get under a reader's skin was the points of view Franco used. I say points, plural, for good reason. While staying in first person, the reader was inside the minds of a different character per story--or so it seemed. Sometimes you'd have repeats, (the character Ryan seemed to be James as a teenager, so he got the most time of anyone) and sometimes it would be a female perspective, or a side character whose name we'd never heard before. The relevance of the varying narrators was questionable, I feel like Franco could have easily gotten his point across without this system. It's commendable Franco tried it out, but once again, horrible execution. I was often asking myself who's eyes I was seeing the world through, usually this wasn't revealed to readers until the end (in another failed attempt at depth). It was confusing and overall very frustrating.

In a nutshell, James Franco should seriously stick to acting.
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