LaTanya McQueen's Reviews > Palo Alto

Palo Alto by James Franco
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did not like it

I have read James Franco’s visionary story collection Palo Alto. It has been blurbed by such literary wonders as Amy Hempel, Susan Minot, and Ben Marcus. Franco has also studied with such authors as Michael Cunningham, Jonathan Lethem, Mona Simpson, Tony Hoagland, and others. In the collection, there is a story where a bunch of teenagers gang-rape a girl and force her into prostitution. It’s okay though because she’s Asian. In another story, to impress a girl the narrator says the word “nigger” and racist epithets in class during a debate on slavery. That’s okay too though because later some black kids beat him up and the girl he liked ends up being a slut. Actually, most of the girls in this book are sluts and the boys all do things like shoot animals with BB guns and kill people while drunk-driving, then later going home to play Nintendo and drink or smoke pot. There is a lot of gay-bashing and race-bashing but it’s okay since it’s the characters who are saying these things and they are from Franco’s imagination, and we all know that he is a creative genius.
There are many luminous sentences in this collection like this one—“Howard was Jewish and I was Jewish because my mom was Jewish.” Or “Tom Prince had horrible face acne, which sprouted in small groupings, like piles of bat shit.” Or “I can feel their mind-killing slime thought rubbing on me and corroding me, and killing me.”
In the story “Jack-O” there are many wonderful similes. So many. So that you could enjoy them I have copied some here:
“…his weight spreads from his belly across the seat, like it was a plastic sack full of liquid, rolling in layers upon itself.”
“…it’s like a boar’s grunt, a deep thing, from the thick part of his throat.”
“…like rust-flaked gears groaning in slow motion.”
“…like the point of a golf tee in his fat, clenched paw.”
“…like fog over a graveyard.”
“...like busted shingles, all climbing over each other.”
“…like a fat something-awful: hockey-player-pumpkin-cartoon-shithead”
“…like ketchup randomness”
“…like a tunnel into the night”
“…like life because I am racing.”
“…like standing on the cloudy threshold of heaven and seeing something so bright and tantalizing and warm-womby feeling.”
“…like a pile of trash against the base of the altar.”
“…like a sleeping mule’s.”
I think these similes are part of what Gary Shteyngart means when he says “Franco’s talent is unmistakable, his ambition profound.” Must be, since the story "Jack-O" was published in Esquire awhile back, previously called "Just Before the Black."
On the inside of my book jacket, the description says that Franco is a “powerful new literary voice.”
James Franco looks very literary in his author photo. He is wearing a black v-neck shirt. He has a very serious literary look on his face. He looks sad and concerned. Maybe it’s because he is worrying about the current state of the publishing industry. I know that I am.

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Reading Progress

October 19, 2010 – Started Reading
October 19, 2010 – Shelved
October 19, 2010 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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Lulu Satre The girl in "Chinatown" is totally submissive to everything and lets her boyfriend use her. There are girls like that and their are boys like that in the real world. What is wrong with having "gang-rape" in a book of fiction. It happens in real life. What is wrong with having a character say "nigger", people say it n real life. An author should never censor himself/herself. If an author wants to explore the dark side he/she has the right to do so and should do so.


LaTanya McQueen I don't feel a writer should censor him/herself, and I feel that a writer should explore whatever they want in a work of fiction. That is not what I have a problem with. The problem that I have with James Franco's "Palo Alto" is that, in short, it's bad writing that is being heralded as something more than it is. It's incredibly difficult to get a story collection published at all, much less by a mainstream publisher, and when they are published they often go unnoticed. If you are looking for a good story collection to read--one that actually does take risks, that actually is well-written, and was published because of the strength of that writing and not because the author is a celebrity, send me a message and I'll be more than happy to give you a list.


message 3: by Michael (new)

Michael Herrman “…like standing on the cloudy threshold of heaven and seeing something so bright and tantalizing and warm-womby feeling.”

I had to find out what 'womby' means. Found a reference to an 1828 dictionary that listed it as 'capacious' or spacious.

"...like seeing something tantalizing and warm-spacious feeling"

I have to hand it to him, he taught me a new word. Hell if I'll ever use it, but next time I see 'womby' my mind won't conjure an image of some Australian marsupial.

Still, after reading the reviews, I think I'll pass on this particular book. Thanks for the heads up.


message 4: by LaTanya (last edited Feb 26, 2018 07:40AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

LaTanya McQueen Michael wrote: "“…like standing on the cloudy threshold of heaven and seeing something so bright and tantalizing and warm-womby feeling.”

I had to find out what 'womby' means. Found a reference to an 1828 dictio..."


In my mind "womby" conjures up images o
f a mother's womb, which I guess could still work. Good point though about learning a new word. I didn't know really know what it meant either.


message 5: by Julie (new)

Julie There is a movie Palo Alto and I had a small frission of hope about it like walking up over a sand dune and expecting the ocean. And yet, all i saw was a dimly lit california parking lot at night with limp kids trading witticisms. James, work harder on the writing you are trying to say something i just don't know what it is yet.


message 6: by Pamela (new)

Pamela Thank you! Saved me from spending $1.99 on this--or rather wasting the 10 minutes or so it would have taken to read the sample from Amazon. Great review.


message 7: by Ràj (new)

Ràj Kûmàrdo, find my Qoute" be good do good things wil good


LaTanya McQueen Point=missed.


leslie nikole I wish I could hug you Latanya. I had to read this book as he was coming for a signing event at my bookstore and I wanted to vomit, particularly on him. Your review is GOLD.


message 10: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Not sure if those similes you listed are supposed to be funny, but I am sitting here with tears rolling down my cheeks. This must be what some reviewer meant when calling him "comically awful"


message 11: by candy (new)

candy i love this and i love you and after feeling sick and angry while reading this im glad you could put my feelings to thoughts much better than i could!


message 12: by Loveliest Evaris (new)

Loveliest Evaris " In another story, to impress a girl the narrator says the word “nigger” and racist epithets in class during a debate on slavery. "

Woah dude...woah. Dude. Jeez.


message 13: by Deirdre (new)

Deirdre Sugiuchi I never had any desire to read this or see his movies because Franco to me always seemed skeezy, but love that you wrote this pre-TimesUp. Props to you 8 years ago for pointing out the racism and misogyny. That list is amazing. I love that it was irritating enough to type out.


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