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James Franco

Palo Alto (Simon and Schuster)

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Oh James Franco and your big ambitious eyes and your sly smile. You had to fail sometime, right? No one can cut their own arm off (alright, that’s in your movie, 127 Hours, but who else would we pay to watch do that?), make visual art, write plays and screenplays, while pursuing three MFAs from different colleges. Palo Alto isn’t terrible, in fact, it’s pretty entertaining in its overwrought adolescent violence, but it suffers from being a one-note exploration of disenfranchised, bored youth. Basically, this is Raymond Carver for Kids. All 11 stories in this collection are told in pissed-off first-person, a blur of vodka, pills and punches, with little or no variation in voice, even when there’s a gender switch. Franco gets the details right, and there are many, but there’s little explanation or insight into this suburban teenage wasteland.

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