I read James Frey’s Bright Shiny Morning while I was living in Israel in 2010. Most of the students who studied at my school were not from LA. In fact, most were not from any of the well-known American cities. I lived in a part of Israel where the community was comprised of people who had given up most of what they owned and enjoyed in the United States to live up to the messianic dream of living in the Holy Land. So there were not many opportunities for recreation or social exploration in town. And almost everyone was a Zionist Orthodox Jew. I missed the vibrancy and diversity of Los Angeles.
Bright Shiny Morning is a collection of parallel stories that take place around the same time in Los Angeles that give the reader a bittersweet taste of the brutality and the luxury that come together to characterize LA. The characters include a gay movie star who will stop at nothing to hide his sexual identity from the public, a teen couple who leaves their sad Midwestern town to pursue a new life in the City of Angels, a heroic homeless man who lives in a bathroom at Venice Beach, and a sad Latina maid who finds love in her cruel employer’s son. These four main plots are interspersed with vignettes about other Angelenos that don’t last more than a chapter and odd, well-researched facts about the history of Los Angeles. Some of these stories end triumphantly, and some end in tragedy, and they all made an impression on my mind and my perception of my hometown.
But more than Frey’s stories touched me, his writing style became my new standard for effective writing. He uses run-on sentences, some that go on for over a page, but in a way that mimics the way thoughts are thought. He doesn’t use commas. He second-guesses himself, considers the choices that his characters have to make over and over again. He seems like he cares about these fictional characters desperately.
Frey uses Los Angeles to play with our emotions and offer a unique set of stories set against the sunny LA backdrop. He left me scared of my city and, at the same time, fascinated by its complexity, proud of its wealth, and affectionate toward the people whom LA destroys.
I never read A Million Little Pieces — the fabricated memoir that got Frey into so much trouble with Oprah. And I don’t want to read it. Frey’s talent as a writer shines bright as morning in this collection of stories, and all of my experiences of LA since that year in Israel indicate that there is truth in what Frey writes here.
Read the New York Times review of Bright Shiny Morning here.
Post submitted by Jacob.