I just finished reading Palo Alto. It’s a group of short stories about young people who live in this part of California. It’s author comes from Palo Alto and is also known as a successful film actor and artist. For James Franco to write a book must have been a big task.
The book is a refreshing read because it’s approach is honest and unpretentious. The characters are believable and the way they talk rings true. It feels like there’s a lot of the author in there and the fine observations he makes of the little details of everyday life are fresh and perceptive.
You could maybe criticise the book for re-treading old ground and not doing anything that others haven’t already done (e.g. Salinger? Joyce?). But all ground is old ground these days, I reckon (and was already old when both Salinger or Joyce were writing). In that sense, there can never be anything new. But then again, it is new because these are new eyes doing the observing. If we were all defeated by the thought that there was nothing left that hasn’t already been done then no new books would ever be written, no new music would ever be made, no new pictures would ever be painted…
With his background in movies it might have been tempting for the author to write a book which read like it was a film. He hasn’t done that. This is a ‘proper’ book. It’s obvious that, as well as loving films, the writer also loves reading. Personally I thought Palo Alto was honest, emotional, perceptive and entertaining. James Franco’s new big task is to write another one.