Monday, July 21, 2008

Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey (a review)

2 out of 5: Bright Shiny Morning is a chaotic snapshot of L.A. It’s like a music video but without the music or the video. Fictional vignettes, sometimes entertaining though more often predictable and trite, are jumbled with more mundane elements like lists of ‘fun facts’ about L.A., descriptions of highways, historical events, and other minutiae. The book goes something like this: vignette about two in-love teenagers coming to L.A. to escape their abusive parents—cut to a list of the names of all the gangs in L.A.—cut to a one-page snippet about an aspiring actress promised a job in exchange for sex—cut to a three-sentence description of L.A. bank robberies in 1895—cut to a vignette about a self-absorbed movie superstar and his problems with his boyfriends—cut to a dull recitation of all the natural disasters that have ever hit L.A. In Bright Shiny Morning, nothing is sustained and nothing lasts. At times, Frey’s quick-paced prose is a refreshing break from the more mundane aspects of this novel, but he indulges too often in repetition. A couple typical examples:

The children thought she was crazy, they were all still scared of him. He seemed
bigger every day. He was bigger every day.

Every night before he went to sleep he lay in bed and dreamed, lay in bed and dreamed.

I suspect Frey is trying to add a certain weightiness with this repetition, but I found it to be an annoying affectation, especially after seeing it on almost every page. Although Frey succeeds in capturing the frenetic and ephemeral aspects of modern L.A., I was left feeling this is a 500-page book with nothing in it that’s real or important.

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