May 10, 2011

Your micro-review roundup: 10 May 2011

(Because I make my way through so many books and movies for CCLaP, I regularly come across projects that are interesting enough unto themselves but that I simply don't have much to say about, or at least not enough to warrant an entire entry. I thought, then, that on occasional weekends I would gather up such "micro-reviews" and post them all in one large entry; they can also be found on CCLaP's main book and main movie archive pages.)

Palo Alto, by James Franco

Palo Alto
By James Franco
Scribner / Simon & Schuster

When I heard that dreamy actor and Renaissance man James Franco had published a story collection, I knew that I would eventually be reading it; and that's because I have a perverse fascination for celebrities with literary aspirations, and so try never to miss it when someone like Ethan Hawke or Jewel releases not a cookbook or kid's tale but an honest-to-God attempt at the fine arts. And the good news here is that Franco is actually not that bad a writer, with this interrelated "story cycle" regarding trashy '90s teenagers in southern California going down quite smoothly; but unfortunately, it also highlights the main reason I'm not much of a fan of the short-story format in general, in that these quick character studies all tend to be done and over long before we're able to make an emotional connection to any of them, stories designed more for atmosphere and mood than for telling an interesting narrative tale. For this alone, we can at least thank Franco for not foisting yet another unreadable book upon a helpless audience; but given that it's no different than a million character-heavy story collections put together as final projects by a million mediocre creative-writing undergraduates, Palo Alto is unfortunately not much of a reason to celebrate either.

Out of 10: 7.5

Sub Rosa, by Amber Dawn

Sub Rosa
By Amber Dawn
Arsenal Pulp Press

For the record, I want it noted that I wanted very much to like Amber Dawn's Sub Rosa; it not only comes recommended by my old '90s writing buddy Michelle Tea, but Daniel Casey even asked to re-run my resulting write-up at his Gently Read Literature, a great litmag that I love having the chance to support. Ah, but then I actually read the book, and realized that it's an only so-so academic/transgressive radical-feminist fairytale, much in the style of Kathy Acker or Lynn Breedlove but not with any of their verve, wit or exuberance for life. Although I wouldn't call it actively bad, I unfortunately find myself with not much to say after reading it besides, "Oh, ho-hum, another one of those books, I see;" and that's a shame, given its pedigree and people's interest. It comes just slightly recommended today.

Out of 10: 7.1

The False Friend, by Myla Goldberg

The False Friend
By Myla Goldberg
Doubleday

I was a huge fan of Myla Goldberg's deceptively creepy The Bee Season when it first came out several years ago, so I've been looking forward to checking out her latest, which boasts an equally fascinating premise -- that twenty years after reporting her childhood friend abducted while playing in the woods one day, a genial thirtysomething nerd has a flash of what might be repressed memories where she seems to realize that she actually murdered the girl during a passionate impromptu fight, a hazy event that she has come back to her hometown to either confirm or deny through mental confrontation. But while the ending definitely delivers a low-impact but emotionally satisfying conclusion, there is almost nothing of note in the 250 pages between, making this a great short story but a lousy novel, and especially when adding Goldberg's decision to fill the second act with endless bland childhood anecdotes and what's perhaps the most conflict-free parental relationship in the history of contemporary literature. Well-written but mostly a waste of time, it comes only slightly recommended today, with me encouraging you to instead just read The Bee Season if you never have before.

Out of 10: 7.2

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:20 AM, May 10, 2011. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |