Books, life the universe

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Bright Shiny Morning

No, not a reference to the weather which is anything but bright and shiny, but the title of a book I finished yesterday by James Frey. I wouldn't have even looked at this book if it hadn't been on the Amazon Vine list - this is the invitation only bit of Amazon where you get free books etc provided you write a review - good or bad. I think I was attracted by the cover as much as anything which is quite striking in blue and red neon lights. When the book arrived I realised that I might not enjoy reading it and wished I hadn't picked it. As you have to read three out of every four books before you can chose any more, I started it last weekend. I wanted to stop reading about page 50 but realised I did actually care what happened to the characters.

The main character is really Los Angeles - its history, the people who live in and visit it, the good and the bad, the famous and the infamous, the high and the low. There are no real chapter divisions, his misuse of the apostrophe annoyed the hell out of me, but somehow I kept reading. It is written in a sort of documentary style which makes you feel as though you're looking down on what's happening. Each section is only two or three pages long and is interspersed with lists of facts about the city, gangsters, natural disasters etc. If you take out the sections about the characters you have an unconventional guide book to Los Angeles.

There are four sets of characters - Amberton Parker - super rich film star, with his marriage of convenience in order to cover up his homosexuality; Maddie and Dylan - runaways who have come to LA to find their dream life; Esperanza - of Mexican parentage and American birth who lets one moment of humiliation rule her life for a time; Old Man Joe - drop out and alcoholic who worries about Beatrice - a young girl he met by chance. The playing out of their stories is set against many other minor characters who are often not named - many of whom came to LA to find their dreams - some succeed some fail.

It does keep you reading and some of the passages showing the dross behind the tinsel are masterpieces. In fact I would perhaps sum it up as a flawed masterpiece. As I have a proof copy I don't know whether the punctuation errors are in the final version, though I suspect they are part of the whole design of the book. I'm not sure I would recommend it to anyone but I was impressed with it. It's difficult to know who it would appeal to in any case though I wonder whether it will win the Pulitzer prize - in which case thousands of people will read it.

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