Palo Alto, by James Franco, Faber, RRP £12.99, 208 pages
James Franco is a successful actor. He’s played James Dean, starred in Milk and the Spiderman movies and is now in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours playing the climber Aron Ralston, who, trapped under a boulder in Utah, cut off his own arm.
On screen, Franco inhabits his characters thoroughly – something that he fails to achieve in his debut story collection. Each tale is told in the first person by a series of disaffected teenage narrators in the Californian city of Palo Alto, where Franco himself was raised. While the crushing ennui and growing pains of life on the cusp of adulthood are conveyed well in stories of accidents, weed-smoking, illicit sex and petty classroom struggles, the voice Franco chooses to render each narrator is flat, bored almost.
The overall impression from these deadpan, loosely interconnected stories is one of a group of numbed teens delivering school reports of what they did last summer. They would rather be somewhere else – a feeling the reader grows to share.