I think working in a bookshop is detrimental to my health. It’s certainly detrimental to my bank account. Nonetheless, having a spare few minutes to kill at work the other day (read: yesterday), I picked up James Frey’s new book – out of curiosity more than anything else, considering the controversy surrounding him a few years ago. This, in hindsight, was a mistake. Despite the more important English lit. essays that are calling, I spent all day in bed with this book. Nothing sus. And I promise I won’t talk about Frey’s controversy any more, ’cause it’s really got nothing to do with this book.
Bright Shiny Morning follows (mainly) the lives of four people who live in Los Angeles, all of whom are not what they seem. Four ordinary(-ish) people trying to live out their lives in a city that is not known perhaps for kindness and caring. There’s Amberton, the closeted, ridiculously famous movie star. There’s Old Man Joe, a 39 year old homeless man who looks like he’s about 80. There’s Esperanza, a very intelligent young woman, who is cleaning houses. There’s Dylan and Maddie, who have left their abusive families out west to come and seek out a better life.
Even though these four stories are at the heart of this novel, it is about so much more. This is a postmodern book about the ultimate postmodern city. Los Angeles. A place where dreams come to die, and where people are slowly sucked dry. Interspersed between these four stories are snapshots of other people living in Los Angeles – of women being raped, of gang warfare, of seedy wives of congressmen – as well as the occasional chapter of fun facts about the city. And a history of Los Angeles throughout the book, in one page/chapter snippets. Frey has done his research here, and you really get a sense for the entire city, feel like you are almost a local, with all the local knowledge he shoves into this novel. And I know some people might feel like the characters he has chosen are a bit clichéd, but I don’t think that really matters. He really cares for these characters, and by extension, so do you.
Frey is also a wonderful writer (I’m very quickly running out of superlatives). He favours that kind of postmodern “I’m cool, so I don’t need to follow conventions like punctuation” school of writing, which works really, really well here. It doesn’t feel pretentious at all, like it often can. The authorial voice never gets annoying or boring – which is good, ’cause he jumps around a lot, and the author really talks to you in the more non-fiction-y sections (like the histories).
Like Matthew Condon did in A Night at the Pink Poodle, James Frey has written a book about the modern, weird postmodern world, full of concrete and crazys. So forget any reservations you might have about reading something by him ’cause you might offend Oprah (surely that’s a good thing anyway…), and read this brilliant, brilliant book. Bright Shiny Morning is one of my favourites of the year. At least.
Now, back to my English essays.