Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Million Little Cliches

It would make sense to actually read a book before posting about it, but the opening lines of David L. Ulin's LA Times review of "Bright Shiny Morning" (James Frey's first admittedly fictional novel / attempt at redemption) don't exactly send me trotting off to Borders:

"Bright Shiny Morning" is a terrible book. One of the worst I've ever read. But you have to give James Frey credit for one thing: He's got chutzpah. Two and a half years after he was eviscerated by Oprah Winfrey for exaggerating many of the incidents in his now-discredited memoir "A Million Little Pieces," he's back with this book, which aims to be the big novel about Los Angeles, a panoramic look at the city that seeks to tell us who we are and how we live.

You too, James? Frey did really live here for eight years so one would think he possibly could "get it," but his time was spent writing crappy David Schwimmer movies and coming up with new lies for his memoir, so he may not have gotten out of the house that much. Hence we get what Ulin describes thusly:

Frey seems to know little about Los Angeles and to have no interest in it as a real place where people wrestle with actual life. There are obligatory riffs on freeways and natural disasters and a chapter on visual artists that lists "the highest price ever paid for a piece of their work in a public auction." There are also occasional installments of "Fun Facts" about the city, as if to give the illusion of a certain depth. Did you know that it is "illegal to lick a toad within the city limits of Los Angeles"? Neither did I. But I also don't know what this has to do with the larger story of the novel, except as another example of L.A. as odd and quirky, a territory in which we all "live with Angels and chase their dreams."

Gah, here we go again with talk of "angels" in our city because our city's name happens to be Los Angeles, with the added bonus of pigeonholing us as dreamy and flighty. When I start hearing about how we all "live with meadows" in Las Vegas, this will be an acceptable inferrence.

Just for comparison, let's see how Janet Maslin in the New York Times felt about the book (in a review in which she mimicked Frey's writing style):

He wrote about people who were drawn to Los Angeles and who they were, why they came, what they wanted, whether they got it, if they didn’t get that, then what they got instead. He looked into their hearts. But he didn’t get sloppy, not maudlin. He just made up characters and wrote as if he cared about them desperately. Bright Shiny Morning. A new chance, real or illusory, that’s what they all wanted. Bright Shiny Morning. So he made that the name of the book.

His publisher called it a dazzling tour de force. (Look, somebody had to, if only to create a comeback drama.) But that wasn’t so far off the mark.

Oh come on, lady. I know you were once married to Jon Landau, who wrote possibly the most famous line of rock cricitism ever -- "I saw rock and roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen" -- which did turn out to be true. But you still don't have to believe everything you read.

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