Bright Shiny Day by James Frey
Four rays of Los Angeles sunshine peek out in a bloated, unorganized affair in which the biggest character is the city itself. Sure, Bright Shiny Day has its moments and those moments are superb, but this book feels like a cop-out in many ways.
Author James Frey, best known for his Oprah book club fiasco, offers up multiple story-lines which take place at various racial, economical, moral, and geographical points around the city of Los Angeles. The various characters become instantly recognizable as the Hollywood stereotypes they are. Whether its the insanely rich, closet homosexual, actor who feels he can get away with anything, the homeless man with a heart, or the young couple fleeing terrible Ohio for a fresh start, you will find it very easy to invest yourself in these characters and either root or jeer them as they progress.
The stories are told at random points and random lengths throughout the book and interspersed are “tidbits” and stories from Los Angeles’ past. At first this becomes a great way to set the scene and gear someone’s mind to not only recognize but to understand the city and how it is different from other metropolitan areas. However, as the book drags and the tidbits and stories get longer and longer they take away from the main story completely. About halfway through the book I found myself wishing Mr. Frey would just cut them out and get back to the story. About three-fourths of the way through I found myself questioning whether I cared enough to continue walking through the nuggets of trash polluting the sands of Venice Beach he was passing off as entertainment. The facts never stop coming and, in fact, late in the book they seem to get worse as if he realized his book would be way too short without more randomness. At this point he starts adding short snippets of stories and introducing new characters, some fiction and some non-fiction, that have nothing to do with the book. Just like the lengthy history of the city these snippets become weeds snuffing out the rose of a story he was crafting.
Luckily, I listened to the book on CD and the reader, actor Ben Foster, was on point the whole book. His various voices, intensity, and most important his humorous excitement during the lengthy interludes kept the book entertaining long after the writing had ceased to do so.
Perhaps, in the end, I just didn’t grasp how “LA” the book and stories were. Maybe, as a Cleveland, Ohio native with a below average education and an unnatural love of overeating I just missed the point. In the end, I feel like Bright Shiny Day gets lost in the Los Angeles smog.