Palo Alto by James Franco

by |February 3, 2011

This face is suddenly everywhere. While wondering why, I caught the end of an interview on TV. My hero, Jon Stewart seemed to be taking the face, James Franco, seriously. Franco had just won an Oscar nomination for best actor for his performance in 127 Hours (explains why his face is everywhere). But that wasn’t why Jon Stewart was talking to him in that manner he has when talking to grown-up and fully fledged humans and that’s what caught my attention. Well, it would appear that James Franco is no dummy. He’s written a collection of short stories.

Are they any good? I can’t say until I have read them and neither can you. Why? It would be hard for any writer to review this book without feeling that the author’s fame had something to do with their making it into print. And, in fact, most of the reviews I’ve read get snagged on that question. But the fact remains, whether or not Franco is the next big thing in literature, he’s done something many aspiring writers never manage to do – he finished the book.

From an article in The Observer by Killian Fox

It’s becoming increasingly clear that James Franco is more than just a pretty face. This may come as a surprise to anyone who knows him primarily as the chisel-jawed heart-throb from the Spider-Man movies, in which he played the son of the Green Goblin, and other high-budget, low-IQ Hollywood entertainments such as Tristan + Isolde. Not exactly groundwork for a parallel career as a writer of short stories that register the influence of Hemingway, Kerouac and Carver and quote casually from Proust.

But recently Franco has been busy defying expectations. As an actor, he has gravitated towards such left-field projects as Milk and the forthcoming Howl, in which he plays Allen Ginsberg during his 1957 obscenity trial. He is a keen painter and he classifies his bizarre ongoing appearances on the US daytime soap General Hospital, playing a sinister artist named “Franco”, as performance art. He has written and directed short films and a feature-length documentary about Saturday Night Live, and is planning to shoot an adaptation of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Read the full review here…

From the Publisher:

Palo Alto is a fiercely vivid collection of stories about troubled California teenagers and misfits – violent and harrowing, from the astonishingly talented actor and artist James Franco.

Palo Alto is the debut of a surprising and powerful new literary voice. Written with an immediate sense of place – claustrophobic and ominous – James Franco’s collection traces the lives of an extended group of teenagers as they experiment with vices of all kinds, struggle with their families and one another, and succumb to self-destructive, often heartless nihilism.

In Lockheed a young woman’s summer – spent working a dull internship – is suddenly upended by a spectacular incident of violence at a house party.

In American History a high school freshman attempts to impress a girl during a classroom skit with a realistic portrayal of a slave owner – only to have his feigned bigotry avenged.

In I Could Kill Someone, a lonely teenager buys a gun with the aim of killing his high school tormentor, but begins to wonder about his bully’s own inner life.

These linked stories, stark, vivid, and disturbing, are a compelling portrait of lives on the rough fringes of youth.

Oscar Nomination for Best Actor:

James Franco stars in the film 127 Hours is the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston’s remarkable adventure to save himself after a fallen boulder crashes on his arm and traps him in an isolated canyon in Utah – originally published under the title Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

About the book: On Sunday April 27, 2003, 27-year old Aron Ralston set off for a day’s hiking in the Utah canyons. Dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, Ralston, a seasoned climber, figured he’d hike for a few hours and then head off to work.

40 miles from the nearest paved road, he found himself on top of an 800-pound boulder. As he slid down and off of the boulder it shifted, trapping his right hand against the canyon wall. No one knew where he was; he had little water; he wasn’t dressed correctly; and the boulder wasn’t going anywhere. He remained trapped for five days in the canyon: hypothermic at night, de-hydrated and hallucinating by day.  Finally, he faced the most terrible decision of his life: braking the bones in his wrist by snapping them against the boulder, he hacked through the skin, and finally succeeded in amputating his right hand and wrist.

The ordeal, however, was only beginning. He still faced a 60-foot rappell to freedom, and a walk of several hours back to his car – along the way, he miraculously met a family of hikers, and with his arms tourniqued, and blood-loss almost critical, they heard above them the whir of helicopter blades; just in time, Aron was rescued and rushed to hospital.

Since that day, Aron has had a remarkable recovery. He is back out on the mountains, with an artificial limb; he speaks to select groups on his ordeal and rescue; and amazingly, he is upbeat, positive, and an inspiration to all who meet him. This is the account of those five days, of the years that led up to them, and where he goes from here. It is narrative non-fiction at its most compelling.

James Franco also stars as the young Allen Ginsberg—poet, counter-culture adventurer, and chronicler of the Beat Generation.

In his famously confessional, leave-nothing-out style, Ginsberg recounts the road trips, love affairs, and search for personal liberation that led to the most timeless and electrifying work of his career: the poem HOWL.

Meanwhile, in a San Francisco courtroom, HOWL is on trial. Prosecutor Ralph McIntosh (David Strathairn) sets out to prove that the book should be banned, while suave defense attorney Jake Ehrlich (Jon Hamm) argues fervently for freedom of speech and creative expression. The proceedings veer from the comically absurd to the passionate as a host of unusual witnesses (Jeff Daniels, Mary-Louise Parker, Treat Williams, Alessandro Nivola) pit generation against generation and art against fear in front of conservative Judge Clayton Horn (Bob Balaban).

HOWL is simultaneously a portrait of a renegade artist breaking down barriers to find love and redemption, and an imaginative ride through a prophetic masterpiece that rocked a generation and was heard around the world.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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