“He finally decided that he was insane, and there was nothing to do but obey the voices. He started walking west. The voices stopped. He kept walking west. They did not return. He walked west until he reached the ocean, and walking any farther would have led to his death by drowning. As he stood on the sand staring across the ocean he heard one word- here here here. And so it was, here.”
“Bright Shiny Morning” by James Frey
Bright Shiny Morning is best described as a love letter to Los Angeles. Not the sort of love letter that does nothing but touting the wonders of the object of the writer’s affection, but rather a love letter that looks at all of the mortal flaws of its subject and then boldly proclaims that, despite all of that, the author loves it deeply anyway. Bright Shiny Morning is a tale with many different stories interspersed through it: Frey introduces us to some characters that we only see once, though other characters, we follow their experiences through multiple snippets. The stories are scattered among vignettes of “facts” about Los Angeles, its founding, its economy, its history, its gangs, its industry and its legacy. Most of the stories are incredibly depressing; I’ve read this book before and commented that it was one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. My mother was prompted to read it and whole heartedly agreed. But despite the raw, hard facts of a difficult life in the glory of LA, there is still a glimmer of hope behind all of it. Mingled in with the terribly rough blows are a few shining examples of good things happening to good people, of hope and happiness, and the general consensus is that life sucks, life is hard, but sometimes, it’s not too bad, either. You never know what may happen in the world, so take the good when you can, because they might not last.
As mentioned, I’ve read this book before, last year, and read it again now because it was there, and I enjoyed it on the second read, though nothing could match the pure emotional roller coaster it takes you on the first time you read it. I don’t want to say too much because I would hate to ruin that pure rush from anyone else. While the snippets of people we just see once are strong enough to stick with you, the characters that Frey sticks with (especially first generation Mexican-American Esperanza and the hard-luck teenage lovers from Ohio, Dylan and Maddie) throughout the book cling to you and stay with you long after you’ve closed the book. On a technical level, the writing is raw, to the point where Frey seems to completely abandon any sort of logical punctuation structure (I’m still trying to figure out his method on that), and the style suits the book. I remember finding the random punctuation (or more often lack thereof) a little jarring the first time, but it’s a 500 plus page book, and the stories are so gripping that you start to completely forget about it.
It’s a wonderful book, highly recommended if you want a good strong slap-in-the-face emotional read. It also desperately makes me wish that, one day, I could manage to know enough about my own city and compose my own love letter to Chicago. But it’s a daunting task, and Frey has done a marvelous job. Although, really, I’ve never been to LA, but from an outsider view, it’s a terrible, beautiful city that I’d be both terrified and excited to one day experience.
Books Read: 34 out of 100.
Also, I didn’t get a chance to thank Nigel Edwards for the subscription, so I’m doing it now and encouraging everyone to check him out!