two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
36-Sept-Oct-2008
By: 
James Frey
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A-Bright Shiny MorningSeveral years after publicly admitting that parts of his memoir, A Million Little Pieces ( 3 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2003), were fabricated, James Frey bounces back with an ambitious new novel that attempts to capture the spirit of Los Angeles.

The Story: In this expansive, panoramic rendering of Los Angeles, characters from vastly different backgrounds struggle to do the right (or wrong) thing. A married-but-secretly-gay Hollywood heartthrob uses his fame and fortune to coerce men into sex; a homeless drunk with a heart of gold tries to save a teenage meth addict; an underprivileged, first-generation Latina trades her dreams of college for a job as a maid; and two high school sweethearts flee Ohio and their abusive parents for a shot at the Big Time. Interspersed with these stories are brief character sketches, lists of "Fun Facts" (and some not so fun), historical vignettes, trivia, and encyclopedic descriptions of various aspects of the city.
HarperCollins. 512 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0061573132

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Frey’s new novel is simultaneously sprawling, absurdly ambitious, and almost impossible to put down. … Frey is a novelist of compassion and unique vision." Chuck Leddy

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[The stray facts and vignettes] helped turn this book into the captivating urban kaleidoscope that, most recently, Charles Bock’s Beautiful Children was supposed to be. Bright Shiny Morning was mobile and alert to layout, tempo, different voices, how words looked on the page." Janet Maslin

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"He sacrifices depth for breadth, for a CinemaScopic view of the city that both exemplifies and exploits the clichés 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." Steven Moore

USA Today 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Morning is a gusher, too often spouting bad prose, predictable plot turns, and one-dimensional characters (the poor ones are good, the rich one evil). … By the end, Morning reads like a saccharine-sweet Hallmark Special that Oliver Stone wrote and Quentin Tarantino directed." Deirdre Donahue

Seattle Times 2 of 5 Stars
"At first, as you weave among the major stories and the hordes of minor ones, you all but quiver with anticipation: How’s he going to tie this all together? Little by little you deflate as you realize: He’s not." Craig Seligman

Entertainment Weekly 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Imagine the movie Crash rewritten as a pastiche of Tom Wolfe, Bret Easton Ellis, and Jackie Collins—and you get a sense of the frustrating experience of reading this slack, self-indulgent mess. … Frey never achieves narrative momentum—he’s too easily distracted by, say, a list of customers at a local gun store." Thom Geier

Los Angeles Times 0.5 of 5 Stars
"Bright Shiny Morning is an execrable novel, a literary train wreck without even the good grace to be entertaining. … Yes, this is Los Angeles, in the way a cheap Hollywood movie is Los Angeles: superficial, a collection of loose impressions that don’t add up." David L. Ulin

Critical Summary

"Although he’s a gifted storyteller," contends the Seattle Times, James Frey "has only two modes, saccharine and brutal," and the glut of alcoholism, drug addiction, sex, and violence underlines the author’s vision of the city (much to the consternation of the indignant Los Angeles Times.) In addition to clichéd storylines that fail to coalesce, critics took issue with Frey’s narrative techniques: nontraditional grammar and punctuation; irrelevant lists and asides; and the countless characters whose brief appearances consist of only a few sentences. Frey’s talents as a writer are thwarted here by a considerable lack of editing, but readers who enjoyed A Million Little Pieces may appreciate Morning. "Like its author, it can be called many things, but never boring," concludes USA Today.