Actor Franco’s experimental first novel (Palo Alto: Stories, 2010) focuses on the field he knows best—acting.
Part aphorism, part instruction manual, part reflection, part short story and, seemingly, part memoir, the narrative is a pastiche of forms and moods. We find a narrator who’s occasionally called “James Franco” and a reminder (in a footnote) that this work is a fictional creation. We also find an order of sorts, for he breaks the narrative into two major sections: “The Twelve Steps of Actors Anonymous” and “The Twelve Traditions of Actors Anonymous.” The first part is casually based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and includes steps such as “[We] turned our will and our ‘performances’ over to the Great Director” and “[We] made a fearless and searching moral inventory of our ‘character.’ ” The “Twelve Traditions” include “Every film ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside financing” and “We should remain forever artists, but we can employ technical workers.” As is clear from these rubrics, some of this advice is either overly obvious or to be taken with a grain of salt. Gnomic statements abound: “Your characters need to love something, otherwise they will be unlovable” and “The grammar of film is more complex than the grammar of text.” In the interstices, Franco (or his alter ego) presents his ideas through anecdotes and semiplausible fictional incidents, with plenty of inside references to Hollywood actors.
Loosely structured in the extreme, the novel seems to have been written in odd moments while Franco was taking a break from his acting career—and it was probably more fun for him to write than it is for the reader to read.