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Bright Shiny Morning: A Novelby James Frey
Synopses & Reviews
One of the most celebrated and controversial authors in America delivers his first novel — a sweeping chronicle of contemporary Los Angeles that is bold, exhilarating, and utterly original.
Dozens of characters pass across the reader's sight lines — some never to be seen again — but James Frey lingers on a handful of LA's lost souls and captures the dramatic narrative of their lives: a bright, ambitious young Mexican-American woman who allows her future to be undone by a moment of searing humiliation; a supremely narcissistic action-movie star whose passion for the unattainable object of his affection nearly destroys him; a couple, both nineteen years old, who flee their suffocating hometown and struggle to survive on the fringes of the great city; and an aging Venice Beach alcoholic whose life is turned upside down when a meth-addled teenage girl shows up half-dead outside the restroom he calls home.
Throughout this strikingly powerful novel there is the relentless drumbeat of the millions of other stories that, taken as a whole, describe a city, a culture, and an age. A dazzling tour de force, Bright Shiny Morning illuminates the joys, horrors, and unexpected fortunes of life and death in Los Angeles.
"Signature Review by Sara Nelson When James Frey imploded as a memoirist in 2006, many said his A Million Little Pieces should have been — and perhaps initially was — presented as a novel, and that Frey — a sometimes screenwriter — was, both by nature and design, a fiction writer. Bright Shiny Morning is his first official book of fiction. If it's not quite a novel, less believable in its way than his 'augmented' memoir ever was, there's no doubt it's a work of Frey's imagination. Ironic, isn't it? Set in contemporary Los Angeles, Bright Shiny Morning is not a cohesive narrative but a compilation of vignettes of several characters (if this were a memoir, we'd call them 'composites') who have come to the city to fulfill their dreams. Some examples: Dylan and Maddie, madly-in-love Midwestern runaways who survive through the kindness of near strangers; Esperanza, a Mexican-American maid tortured by a body that could have been drawn by R. Crumb; a group of drunks and junkies who create a community behind the shacks on Venice Beach; Amberton Parker, a hugely famous married movie star who is secretly — you guessed it — gay. Interspersed with these rotating portraits are random historical and statistical factoids (which better have been fact-checked, even if there is a nudge-nudge, wink-wink disclaimer up front: 'Nothing in this book should be considered accurate or reliable') about L.A.: that, for example, 'approximately 2.7 million people live without health insurance' and 'there are more than 12,000 people who describe their job as bill collector in the City of Los Angeles.' Frey's intention, it seems, is to create an onomatopoetic jumble, a cacophony of facts and fiction, stats and stories, that replicate the contradictory nature of the place they describe. I expect, given the sharpness of the knives that some critics have out for Frey, that many will say the book flat out doesn't work. First off, there's that voice, the hyperbolic, breathless, run-on, word-repeating voice that was much better suited to a memoir (or even a novel) in which the hero was a hyperbolic, breathless alcoholic and drug addict. And then there's the frat-boy swagger that angered some readers of AMLP turning up here, too, so faux-cynical as to be nave: the gang father's attaboy about his five-year-old son's desire to be a cold-blooded killer, and the prurient, adolescent take on sex. (And couldn't someone have stopped him from exclaiming 'woohoo' after some of his 'fun' and 'not fun' factoids?) Yet the guy has something: an energy, a drive, a relentlessness, maybe, that can pull readers along, past the voice, past the stock characters, past the cliches. Bright Shiny Morning is a train wreck of a novel, but it's un-put-downable, a real page-turner — in what may come to be known as the Frey tradition." (Sara Nelson is the editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly.) Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Because I've been on a fool's errand the past four years writing a history of the novel, I paid little attention to the big publishing scandal of 2006, when James Frey's 'A Million Little Pieces' was exposed as being closer to fiction than to the heartfelt memoir it was marketed as. I couldn't be bothered with the legal and moral issues because the history of this lawless genre is filled with such... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) dodges. In the 2nd century, a fantastic fiction by the Greek satirist Lucian was cheekily titled a 'True History.' Both 'Robinson Crusoe' and 'Gulliver's Travels' were first marketed as nonfiction accounts, and even included prefaces by their publishers swearing to their veracity. More recently, we've had autobiographical novels, the nonfiction novels of Truman Capote and Norman Mailer and some historical novels with more documentation than you find in scholarly tomes. There's always been a blurry line between fiction and nonfiction, and Frey isn't the first or last writer to conga on that line. In his newest novel — or, rather, his first book to be marketed as a novel — the unrepentant author blurs the line further. The first line of text is a disclaimer: 'Nothing in this book should be considered accurate or reliable.' But in point of fact, this sprawling novel about Los Angeles, where Frey lived in the 1990s, is very accurate and can be considered a reliable guide to 'the most diverse, fastest-growing major metropolitan area in the United States,' as he writes near the end. I did some spot fact-checking, and nearly everything checked out: There is actually a black gang that calls itself the Harvard Gangster Crips, Californian Glenn Martin did design and fly an airplane as early as 1909, and 1930s L.A. mayor Frank Shaw did literally bomb his critics. There may be others, but the only error I noticed involved a wedding date: An L.A. secretary named Jannene Swift married a large chunk of rock in 1976 (part of the pet rock craze?), not in 1950 as Frey states. 'Bright Shiny Morning' is both a capsule history of Los Angeles and a fictional census of hundreds of its current citizens. The novel alternates between brief milestones in L.A. history, moving chronologically from its founding in 1781 to the year 2000, and countless episodes set in the present (and related in the present tense, which gives them a nervy energy). Some current Angelenos get only a few lines: Allison, an aspiring model, 'moved to Los Angeles at 18 to become a Playboy Bunny. Now 19, she works in porn.' Some get a paragraph or two, and others a few pages. We get the extended stories of only four representative characters, endlessly interrupted but never intersecting, which gives the novel just enough cohesion to keep it from looking like a kaleidoscopic collage. Dylan and Maddie, for example, are childhood sweethearts from Ohio, now 19, who drove out to L.A. to avoid their abusive parents. Their nest egg is stolen during their first week there (welcome to L.A.), and we watch as these sweet kids doggedly pursue the American Dream. Old Man Joe, who looks 80 but is only 38, is a bum addicted to Chablis. Amberton Parker is a box office action hero and closet homosexual. Esperanza, the child of illegal immigrants, grows up smart but too poor to attend college, and works as a maid for a tyrannical rich white widow. Only one of these stories turns out well; this isn't a novel with a Hollywood ending. Structurally, the novel is interesting: It moves simultaneously through time (the historical vignettes) and space (the characters spread all over L.A.). There are lists and other modernist devices, including the unconventional layout, punctuation and telegraphic sentence style of Frey's earlier books. His ambition may have been to write the definitive novel of L.A., to do for that city what Joyce did for Dublin, Dos Passos did for Manhattan or Durrell did for Alexandria. If so, he may have succeeded; Joyce boasted that if Dublin were to disappear, it could be reconstructed from his 'Ulysses,' and Frey could make the same claim for 'Bright Shiny Morning' — though after reading his grim depiction, most wouldn't think it worth the effort to reconstruct such a place. But he's not in the same class as those modernists. There's some sloppiness to Frey's writing: We're told twice that the Los Angeles International Airport is called LAX, which most readers don't need to be told at all, and twice that Lincoln Boulevard is nicknamed the Stinkin" Lincoln. In too many places he drops the narrative's impersonal tone and indulges in wisecracks that mostly fall flat. Some sections, like the one on L.A."s Skid Row, read like magazine pieces, and he has an annoying habit of repeating phrases for poetic emphasis: 'It's the American way, the American way.' He sacrifices depth for breadth, for a CinemaScopic view of the city that both exemplifies and exploits the cliches about the mythological lure of the West and L.A. as the Land of Dreams. But 'Bright Shiny Morning' reads quickly, has great dialogue and some expertly paced dramatic moments, teaches you more about L.A. than you ever knew, and makes the case (posited by an artist near the end) that Los Angeles is the new New York, on its way to becoming the cultural capital of the world. Or it could all be a stinging satire of the most violent, corrupt, polluted, pretentious, money-mad place in America. Works either way. I understand that Mr. Frey currently lives in New York." Reviewed by Steven Moore, who is the author of several books and essays on contemporary literature, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"The million little pieces guy was called James Frey. He got a second act. He got another chance. Look what he did with it. He stepped up to the plate and hit one out of the park. No more lying, no more melodrama, still run-on sentences still funny punctuation but so what. He became a furiously good storyteller this time." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"[R]eads like the overreaching first draft of a gifted M.F.A. student. Where was Frey's editor at HarperCollins to guide Frey into pruning the clutter and dramatizing the themes in his fact-based tangents? As it stands, Morning is like L.A. at its worst: undone by ambition, sprawl, and (verbal) smog. (Grade: D+)" Entertainment Weekly
"Bright Shiny Morning reads quickly, has great dialogue and some expertly paced dramatic moments, teaches you more about L.A. than you ever knew, and makes the case (posited by an artist near the end) that Los Angeles is the new New York, on its way to becoming the cultural capital of the world." The Washington Post Book World
"[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....Bright Shiny Morning is an execrable novel, a literary train wreck without even the good grace to be entertaining." Los Angeles Times
The #1 New York Times bestselling author delivers his first novel. In a sweeping narrative that encompasses the history of Los Angeles, Frey focuses on a handful of lost souls, and spins the gripping narrative of their lives.
About the Author
James Frey is originally from Cleveland. He is the author of A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard. He lives in New York.
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