Anyway, so in the middle of all that chaos, he found time to write a book, or rather, a collection of short stories that all centre round an extended group of friends in Palo Alto (obviously) and that he probably could have got away with calling a novel if he'd wanted to (but I respect that he didn't). Anyway, for some reason, in spite of the PhD course at Yale and probably because of the pretty face and the whole acting thing, I wasn't really expecting much from 'Franco the author', and I have to say that I was left pleasantly surprised, and a little bit ashamed of my lack of faith. Because I really enjoyed Palo Alto, which was a sometimes disturbing, but never judgemental view of adolescence in the suburbs. I thought the characters were really well captured, their stories unique but overlapping, and I always always love the whole characters from other stories popping up in other ones. It's just a thing that I love (The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster is a book that also does this, and does it AMAZINGLY).
I was a little apprehensive when starting Palo Alto, because it starts with a quote from Proust. You can imagine the eye rolling that went on in my face, because come on! You can't just quote Proust without looking like a pretentious idiot, unless, I'd say, it fits in very very well with what your book is all about. Fortunately for Franco, this quote did. Here it is:
"There is hardly a single action that we perform in that phase which we would not give anything, in later life, to be able to annul. Whereas what we ought to regret is that we no longer possess the spontaneity which made us perform them. In later life we look at things in a more practical way, in full conformity with the rest of society, but adolescence is the only period in which we learn anything."I mean, I don't know if Franco's characters learn anything at all, but we see them go through things that you have to assume will affect the things they think and feel later on, and they, pretty much universally, do things that, later on, they're going to want to pretend didn't happen. So, I'm going to say that I have to forgive him for quoting Proust (just, don't do it again, yeah?)
So, the stories in Palo Alto are similar but distinct, but there were a few that really stood out to me. I really enjoyed 'April (In Three Parts)' I think because the narrator was a lot less of an asshole than in a lot of the other stories (not necessarily in an inaccurate way, teenagers are supposed to be assholes, right?) and he's fixated on this one girl that he really really likes (April, actually) but then in the third part of the story it gets flipped around and you see things from April's perspective, and you see her as an actual fully formed character, rather than 'the girl that Teddy likes'. And, as you can imagine, I like that a lot! The other story I really liked was 'Yosemite', which was actually the very last story in the book. The thing about it was, the main character seemed to be just about to enter adolescence (say, 11 or 12) and I felt like it represented a calm before the storm of adolescence, when a trip to Yosemite with one's father was enough entertainment, before the smoking and drinking and bad decisions all take place. So it was a really soothing story to end with, and also a very good one.
So yeah, Palo Alto. It's good! Even if you don't usually go for short stories, it could be worth giving this a go, because it really feels like one extended story of troubled adolescence in general. And I realise that by typing 'troubled adolescence', I've just gone and made it sound pretentious again, but it really isn't! It's entertaining, well executed, and well written, and what more can you ask for from a book really?! Answer: Not a lot.