By **Rebecca Bates**
I did it. I read James Franco’s book. I pretended that I didn’t want to. I told my friends that my editors were making me because they want readers to think they are tuned into the cultural moment. But that was a lie because I bought the book myself, and I even read it in public.
Palo Alto is actually ok in a fuck-the-world-because-I’m-a-socially-maladapted-adolescent-on-the-brink-of-adulthood-and-I-think-I’m-going-through-like-an-existential-crisis kind of way. It has short sentences. It is readable. It’s comprised of stories about upper-middle class teenagers who do a lot of really dope stuff like sneak out and shoot BB guns and vandalize property and drink their parents’ liquor and then, in a moment of sheer innovation and brilliance, replace the liquor with water. These teenagers also seem to perpetually suffer from a kind of Heideggerian boredom (“Profound boredom…removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference.”). They don’t really seem to give a shit about anyone. Not each other. Not themselves.
But this indifference actually becomes the book’s most redeeming quality. While the sparse prose mimics the characters’ apathy, we quickly find that the minimalist style betrays a repressed inner-life. Here’s how Franco ends his story “Killing Animals,” about a group of boys who spend the majority of their time shooting animals with slingshots and pellet guns: “We shot animals and people. But they were all small animals, and we didn’t kill anyone.” The boys confess their mischief and in the same breath try to qualify it as something less severe. The guilt is there, even if it isn’t directly stated.
Did I hate this? No. Did I love this? No. Did I hate it more than I loved it? No. Did I hate myself for wanting to read it? Kind of. So, verdict: James Franco’s Palo Alto is a good way to pass the time on that long stretch on the D train between 125th St. and Columbus Circle. But it’s probably not canon worthy.
Rebecca Bates is a blog editor at Guernica. Read her last post “here”:https://www.guernicamag.com/blog/2142/rebecca_bates_guernicas_divers/.