Bright Shiny Morning (2008) – James Frey

Title: Bright Shiny Morning
Author: James Frey
Date published: 2008
Publisher: Harper Collins
Star Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

James Frey is one of those writers that you never forget. You never forget his style, and you never forget the shocking images he places in your head. You simply acknowledge that his characters are flawed and mad and angry and misunderstood and naïve and smart and impressionable and violent and very sad and always, always, always chasing something. The dream. The dragon. Fame and fortune. Their own sense of purpose. Frey knows that sometimes people are not okay. Sometimes people live in the alleys and ditches, and they don’t very often see the light. Sometimes people are the grimy, spitting souls that hide on the periphery of society, and once upon a time those very souls had dreams that surpassed even themselves. Sometimes those dreams were perhaps a little too big.

In Frey’s other works, namely A Million Little Pieces (2004) and My Friend Leonard (2005), some of the most poignant and the most relatable and the most apt descriptions of addiction and recovery are to be found. The absolute horror of the consequences of drug and alcohol addiction was written in such a brilliant way that Frey was lauded for his work. He became an overnight success. He became a bestselling author, and his work on A Million Little Pieces that was sold as a memoir became the book that everyone was reading. Until his story became questionable and the ‘story’ part became more fiction than fact. Hell, even Oprah Winfrey got him onto her show and hauled him over the coals. For what though I might add? For deceiving people into believing every bit of the book was true and had in fact happened? Frey admitted to portions of it and also admitted to embellishing parts of it. Personally I would read Frey’s glorious fiction and/or non-fiction any day of the week.

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In Bright Shiny Morning, released as complete and utter fiction, Frey tells the story of Los Angeles (LA). Thrown in between the undefined chapters are snippets of facts on the history of LA. These ‘chapters’ are broken up to tell the stories of a group of very different people living and/or working in LA – Their reasons for being there, their tragedies, their mistakes, their dreams and goals, their families and their realities as they are now in the great, big, smog-filled gridlock of space called Los Angeles.

Sometimes Frey will introduce us to someone and we will never meet them again, and sometimes there are characters who he delves a little more deeply into.  All of these characters have dreamed of a happy ending, just like in the movies. Some get it. Most don’t.

One of these characters is Amberton Parker, a major Hollywood star whose private life is anything but private. He is superficial and quite awful really, and it is through him that we are shown the ugly side of fame amidst the gods and goddesses of the silver screen.

Then there is Esperenza, whose parents are illegal immigrants and only want the best for her. Esperenza is brilliantly smart but the size of her thighs and her work as a maid for an old, white, rich horror of a woman are all that consume her thoughts. Born on American soil on the day her parents crossed the Mexican border, Esperenza is determined to rise above her parent’s position and possibly fall in love along the way.

There is also Old Man Joe, who grew up in New Jersey, discovered alcohol early on and left home after graduation. He has spent a large portion of his life in LA on the street (or in a restaurant bathroom to be exact). Old Man Joe is only 38. But everyone says he looks 80. He is an alcoholic who really only drinks Chablis and has a heart of gold and no real ambitions other than to drink and lie on the beach and look up at the sky.

Finally there is Maddie and Dylan, a 19 year old couple who ran away from abusive situations at home in Ohio. In LA all they have is each other, a cheap apartment in a dodgy hotel and low-paying jobs. Their naïve attempt at domesticity is heart-warming and a little heart-breaking too. They have dreams to build a life for themselves in this big city where people are not always very nice, and sometimes the people who claim to be helping you turn out to be the very people you shouldn’t get help from.

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Frey’s chapters and his characters and his paragraphs filled with so-called ‘fun facts’ all seem to encapsulate the superficial essence of a city that has drawn all sorts of people to its freeways and alleyways and studio apartments and roadside motels. Most have come to seek fame and possibly fortune, and most do not succeed. Like shots of adrenaline or strong drugs his paragraphs that lack punctuation hit the chest and the heart and the veins quickly and without any chance of a slow burn.

This book was utterly brilliant, and I have once again been convinced into believing that James Frey is a damn good writer! One of the greatest voices of a generation that has seen the decline of society and will not paint it any other color than the color it is right here, right now.

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