With no indication of who or why, James Franco’s Palo Alto Stories, jumps into a vivid narrative through the eyes of a teenage boy whose friends endeavors are set on getting drunk at Alice Wolfe’s party. The short story twists when narrator, Ryan, unexpectedly leaves the party and ends up caught up in a hit and run. Years after saying nothing about the incident, the memory fades in his mind. The chapter closes as an unexpected door, and swings into the next story told by a completely different character. Marissa scores an internship at Lockheed, working for a man named Jan. Her job is to watch film of the moon and note flaws in the tapes, her entire summer is spent in a basement looking at the moon. Marissa wants to be an artist, and shares her dreams with Jan, who was also once an artist. They come to the conclusion that the possibilities in art end, where science never stops. Already the book has a leading theme of nihilism, and expresses the aspect of human hopelessness through Franco’s deep eye for detail and knack to describe the smallest, and maybe most significant, details of daily situations. Maybe the rage over Franco’s novel can be accounted to these said quotations of everyday human feelings. The characters in Franco’s stories are a product of their boredom and confusion. Just like the characters, the stories themselves give no emotional pay-off, almost as if they are written with the intention to leave the reader feeling vacant. The book’s context is so relatable that the reader knows the ending without even being told.
The chapters commence onward, a roller coaster of emotions, the reader is introduced to new characters and torn from them almost as quickly as they get to know them. In later chapters you meet Teddy, another painfully average teen residing in Palo Alto, who is in love with the popular and mysterious April. He’s always struggling just to cross her path through a maze of teenage antics. Teddy has got a quiet infatuation while April is torn between him and her soccer coach, Mr. B, but is always seeming to end up everywhere that Teddy isn’t.
Not only is Teddy not where April is, he’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time. Teddy gets mad during one of the books many drunken bashes, and ends up speeding home, only to be met by the front end of an older womans car. Just like in the book’s first chapter, he drives away, but the cops are waiting for him when he arrives home. He’s given 150 hours of community service and probation, and things only seem to be getting worse for him. The books ends in the chapter, Yosemite. The final character, Chris, is on a trip with his reserved father and whiny toddler brother. The trio hike a mountain to Yosemite falls, and Chris can’t acknowledge the beauty of the place he’s found because he can’t seem to stop thinking about how absurd and meaningless life is. Chris doesn’t mention any of the other characters in the book, and leaves the reader hanging with his confused thoughts, leaving the reader just as tired and sad as he felt.
In contrast to the book, the movie Palo Alto Stories lacked the detail that made the book so significant. It followed the storyline of April and Teddy well, but mutilated the characters’ personalities in the process of just trying to make the movie itself. Some movies are better left unmade, especially in this book’s case. It was awkward and stale without the characters inner commentary.
James Franco is a well known artist, mostly for his movie rolls and directors positions. His book was rich with detail, but he lacked the ability to pull it all together, and make it into a story that made sense. Franco’s novel, like many other contemporary books, was unsatisfying and choppy. The movie felt like it was trying so hard to merge all of the aspects created in the book, that it was condemned to not make any sense.