So I'm not sure how I feel about James Franco's short story, "Just Before the Black", in Esquire. Annoyed is probably the right word. Why? Because I'm sure J-Dog queried it hundreds of times like every other writer has to do, before Esquire decided aloud one day:
"James Franco? Never heard of him, but let's give this kid a shot. He's got no real literary credits to his name besides an MFA from Columbia, just like countless others that we reject on a daily basis, but his story has spit-shined promise. I especially like this line: 'I poke the knife at him, at his fat stomach, lightly poking it with the tip, but he's wearing a puffy North Face jacket, so it doesn't stab him.' It's artsy and hip. Readers will love the prose of this relative unknown." Now I don't want to be one of those angry faceless people behind this pitchfork-wielding Internet mob that's out for Franco's blood, but the whole thing kills me. Kills me. And here's why: Just because you're a well-known actor doesn't make you a writer worthy of being published in Esquire. Or being published, period. Based on that magazine's track record of rejections not even many good writers are worthy of being in Esquire (present company included -- we admit, we still have a lot to learn).
Perhaps my standards for Esquire are too high, but they reject tens of thousands of incredible short stories every year from gifted people that deserve an honest shot, and then Jamsie-poo, with his famous last name and movie about Pineapples, can waltz up to the front of the line and cut in front of Those More Talented just because he's got name cred and once played some dude in a Spider-Man movie. It reeks of self-importance and entitlement and I can't stand it when that sort of thing happens with line-cutters at the DMV, much less with a well-known publication. I know, I know: This is the way the world works, I should just suck it up and get used to it, which would be easier for me to do if his story was actually...well...good. I love being pleasantly surprised when someone can wear more than one hat well. But I would call this story a Fail, and I'm disappointed in Esquire for perpetuating Jamsie-poo's narcissism.
Sure, J-Loco is worth his weight as an actor (it can be argued that his portrayal of James Dean was incredible), but a writer he is not. Granted I'm no literary critic, but I've read a lot in my life and feel I'm entitled to an opinion. Reading over "Just Before the Black" and wanting to give it an honest shot wasn't enough to make me ever want to pick up anything Franco-penned again.
I think Sady Doyle over at Salon.com summed it up perfectly:
"... Although James Franco is Salon's Sexiest Man Living of 2009 for good reason, and one of our most valuable Bizarro Celebrities, no one should excuse Just Before the Black. ... The word "gap" is used so many times in this story – in relation to teeth, road barriers, windows. I don't know if it's an intentional motif, or if I just figured out where James Franco shops.
"It's true that, as these things go, James Franco is both interesting and crush-worthy. Unfortunately for him, he is also famous – which is the adult equivalent of being very handsome at a small liberal arts college, in that people will continually tell you that you are great whether or not it's true, and let you get away with far too much. They will, for example, publish your terrifying short story in Esquire. (Or in a book! James Franco will soon publish a book.)"
Yes, Jamestastic has a book deal.
It'd be one thing to accept it as kitschy gimmick -- Lauren Conrad's
But the opposite is true with Jamsie-poo. Unlike other celebrity works, "Just Before the Black" is meant to be looked at with a critical eye, in a magazine that has historically produced quality prose and writers. J-Loco does deserve some credit -- he wrote it all on his own without employing the ubiquitous ghostwriter that lurks behind so many celebrity works -- but it still sucked and we as readers aren't supposed to think that. It's not meant to be laughed at as a joke, or cast-off with an eye-roll as a publicity stunt to add to his growing brand. It's supposed be taken seriously. The beginnings of a literary career. And how far it got, laid as ink on Esquire's precious real estate no less, is what is laughable. I think there's a line for just how much crap we can be spoon-fed. What's next? Lauren Conrad writing a piece for The New Yorker?
I hope I haven't spoken too soon...