James Franco, Short Story Writer

You know who James Franco is, right? He’s been a star in the Spiderman movies and even an Oscar nominee for credibly cutting off his own arm in 127 Hours. And speaking of the Oscars, you may recall that he was such the most-stoned-seeming host in Academy Awards telecast history that he issued a public statement that he was not toking backstage. Franco has been on a one-man campaign to be the brainiest Hollywood hunk in history, earning degrees at two New York colleges, working on a third in Connecticut, and now publishing a short story in Ploughshares, Emerson’s literary magazine.

About that last item, you’d have to do some Google searches to be sure it’s the same James Franco. For you see, in the Winter 2011-12 issue of Ploughshares, James Franco’s name may be right there in the table of contents, but here’s his author’s bio:

James Franco studied literature and creative writing at UCLA with Mona Simpson and Cal Bedient, and has MFAs from Columbia University and Brooklyn College, where he studied with Amy Hempel. His stories have also appeared in Esquire, and his collection Palo Alto was published by Scribner in 2011. He is now working on his PhD in literature at Yale, and recently wrote and directed a film about the poet Hart Crane called The Broken Tower.

Holy literati, Batman! Those are some killer credentials! And to Franco’s credit, they’re all legit — he really has done or is doing all these things, which is a hell of a lot more impressive than slumming it E! News-style at the Chateau Marmont.

Still it’s pretty coy of Franco and/or Ploughshares to pretty much “overlook” his film career. I mean, c’mon, by now most people know who he is. And while mentioning his roles in madcap comedies like Pineapple Express (as a witless pothead, he totally stole that movie) or Date Night might not fit, certainly his roles in “book” movies like Eat Pray Love and Howl (where he played Allen Ginsberg) could certainly qualify for lit-mag bonafides?

Okay, okay, so I’m belaboring this because I’m somewhat amused by it. So let’s get past it and take a look at the story:

It’s called “The Deer,” and it’s short, just six pages. And quite frankly there’s only so much you can say about it. Though it’s written in tight, declarative sentences, the story itself is aimless, much like the bored suburban teens that populate it. Skate punks, drugs, biology class, a road trip, and a pig’s head necklace all get their play. The descriptions are evocative though, and the disaffected voice reveals just enough of seething adolescent anger underneath to be effective. By the end you feel as if you’ve taken in a vivid snapshot. The problem with this snapshot, though, is that it fades from memory soon after. Rather than standing on its own, it probably would work better if it had been part of that collection of short stories he released.

That being said, pick up Ploughshares anyway. It’s a pretty great mag with or without Franco, and they have other big names in there, too, from guest editor Alice Hoffman to novelist Wally Lamb and sci-fi goddess Ursula Le Guin. And if you don’t know who they are, look them up … just not on IMDB.