Palo Alto, set in Palo Alto, California, is a collection of eleven short stories, narrated by teenagers in the first person. Franco realistically captures the confusion of adolescence, and the stories attain cohesion through the interconnectivity of the narrators, characters and locations featured.
Such interconnection is a strong way to structure the book, however it is precisely this strength which results in Palo Alto’s damning weakness: each narrating voice (the voice of the bored teenager getting their kicks from the same drugs, guns, sex, vodka, and car crashes) is disappointingly similar. The characters lack tangibility, a defining personality and, with the exception of American History, April, and I Could Kill Someone, their unanimous, repetitive boredom permeates the reader within the first few stories. This is reinforced by Franco’s deadpan tone.
As individual stories, some are more commendable than others (Halloween and April are spot-on), but as a collection they feel terse and uniform. Palo Alto does faithfully bring across adolescent emptiness with an uneasy and heavy mood, at times yielding thoughtful insights. Franco’s first literary attempt is ambitious, and with refining this could be a poignant collection.
Published by Faber & Faber, £12.99
3 1/2 Stars