A friend of mine has just sent me an article on “Summer Reading Recommendations” from James Franco, published by the HuffingtonPost. Now I know we’re supposed to revere Franco for being a radical renaissance man (even though his unmistakable mediocrity extends beyond acting to his roles hosting the Oscars, skipping and sleeping through graduate school, and creating rebellious “installation art”); however, no aspect of Franco’s underwhelming oeuvre is more absurd than his attempts at writing of any kind.
I say this as someone who has tried to read through Mr. Franco’s impenetrable short story collection, Palo Alto, which contains moments of Nabokovian fluency such as: “Tom Prince had horrible face acne, which sprouted in small groupings, like piles of bat shit” and “His stomach was like curdled milk. There were little chunks of ill-formed fat that showed through the skin when he moved. The skin on his stomach was as white as the inside of a radish.” Or, in a stroke of descriptive brilliance – and my personal favorite sentence of the collection – Franco describes a building at twilight as looking, “beige, but the shadows make it shadow-color.” How vivid.
Yet just when I thought the farce known as this future Yale Literature PhD’s writing career could not get any more laughable, I read his summer book report. Allow me to direct you to the following paragraph:
Warner’s book is a smart and fun look at gay marriage and anti-normative lifestyles. He makes the liberating argument that the heteronormative lifestyles might learn more from queer lifestyles than the opposite, that instead of having the gay and queer communities try to conform to the hetero mainstream, maybe the mainstream might learn something from those wacky people living ‘alternative’ lifestyles. As gay marriage is very much on people’s minds, this is a book that can blow your mind about how we are taught to see ourselves in this country – straight, gay and otherwise – and how we can all learn to be still more open to variety.
Fredrick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes is purported to be highly autobiographical and, despite his disclaimer at the beginning, I think that it must be, at least, very inspired by actual events.
Here we see the dreadful consequences of an idiot’s collision with a dictionary. Franco’s writing brings to mind the classic comic scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen, stuck in a box office line and getting an earful from a pseudo-intellectual pontificating on the “indulgence” of Fellini’s movies, turns to Diane Keaton and gripes: “The keyword here is ‘indulgent'”. And the keyword in this case is “normative”. The paragraph makes perfect sense as a pompous professor’s lecture on the subject – only one that that has been recently attended by an undergrad, who then, after a few too many drinks, regurgitates its finer points to you.
Moreover, Franco repeats the word “mind” in the third sentence, and also employs the trite phrase, “blow your mind.” More still, the modifiers “straight, gay and otherwise” refer to “ourselves,” and thus should not be placed after the word “country.” Finally, it should read “largely inspired,” instead of “very inspired,” which means, essentially, nothing. I ask, who is his editor?
These specific critiques are offered while overlooking the obvious problem that plagues all of Franco’s writing: you couldn’t follow his train of thought if you had a map and operating manual.
Regardless of whether it’s fact or fiction, the book is written like a memoir, and because of that it is highly episodic. Like any life, this one is unshapely and chaotic, not laid out according to Aristotelian unity or Freytag’s dramatic structure. But despite this, Exley achieves a flow of information by using techniques that either delay the conclusion of one event in order to give momentum to the exploration of another event, or introduce an idea early so that it can be seamlessly picked up later and explored while capitalizing on the inertia from the event previously related.
Just reread that final catastrophe-of-a-sentence once more to see my point.
Finally, Franco ends his article on a note of ironic vulgarity:
This book is a treat for anyone looking for a good fucking read. If anything, it shows that books above a ninth grade reading level can be as entertaining as Twilight.
It’s vulgar for the obvious reason.
It’s ironic because, to be frank Mr. Franco, your writing is well below a ninth grade level.