James Franco's Simile-Filled Short Story, "Just Before the Black"


James Franco’s first story collection, Palo Alto, will be published by Scribner in October. We have no idea if “Just Before the Black,” which you can currently read in its entirety on Esquire.com will make the cut, but it’s definitely worth checking out. Not because it’s good, because he’s famous — which is obviously the same reason that it’s being published. The plot focuses on two young guys who work at the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course pro shop. Our narrator, Michael, thinks death would be a good way to cure his boredom.

“I often think about driving off the side of freeway overpasses, just plunge Grandpa’s old blue boat through the cement guardrail: The sculpted barrier crumbling about me and Grandpa’s blue machine; a great moment of metallic explosion and heavy ripping and jerking and then release; a soft, slow dive of arcing color through the windshield, into a hard second of impact, just before the black. What an adventure lies behind one quick turn of the steering wheel. A great screaming, and then, slip away.”

We found some of the dialogue between Michael and his fat friend Joe painful. But even worse are the similes. A sampling of groaners below:

“the air plays on my forehead like a cold whisper” “his weight spreads from his belly across the seat, like it was a plastic sack full of liquid, rolling in layers upon itself” “it’s like a boar’s grunt, a deep thing, from the thick part of his throat” “It looks like the point of a golf tee in his fat, clenched paw.” “the blue shadow-smoke drifts over the gate of his teeth like fog over a graveyard” “He smiles with rotten teeth like busted shingles” “like a blubbery peekaboo face, so surprised” “a laughter that bubbles out like popcorn” “covered in flowing blood, going onto his shirt like ketchup randomness” “I replaced the lights, but they were crooked and looked in different directions, like Peter Falk’s glass eye and real eye.” “like standing on the cloudy threshold of heaven and seeing something so bright and tantalizing and warmy-womby-feeling but not being able to enter” “like a mommy with her little baby making him feel good”* “he is hunched like a pile of trash against the base of the altar”

What do you think? Is this short story a “crush killer” for you as well? Are you wondering if all of that studying at Columbia and Tisch is doing any good? Would you rather read something written by his common law body pillow?

* Note: This is him describing the sex act.