Two-Sided Stories

by capreviewroom

From the author of the controversial memoir A Million Little Pieces, James Frey’s Bright Shiny Morning aims to tell a much different story, one from the perspective of multiple characters while at the same time telling the story of the birth and growth of one of the world’s premier cities, Los Angeles.

We spend most of our time with four main characters; a homeless man, an abused young couple looking for a fresh start, a movie star hiding a big secret, and the daughter of illegal Mexican immigrants. All of these stories however are intertwined with profiles of minor characters as well as large portions of the book dedicated to detailing the development of the city itself. The characters that Frey has chosen are hit or miss and often fall too easily into common stereotypes; the Mexican girl is a maid and the homeless man is an alcoholic. It eliminates any empathy that a novel like this needs to grow its characters. Dylan and Maddie are an exception to this; their story takes us through the lives of the unexpected, biker gangs and caddies, and also features the best ending out of the main stories. On the other hand, movie star and closet homosexual Amberton Parker’s story reads as if there was no thought given to making an interesting narrative. By the time Amberton’s story begins to pick up, it’s too late.

Frey constantly swaps between the four main stories and the historical sections in an attempt to keep the novel fresh as well as developing the city as a character, but it often breaks up the action at points where the reader is invested in the story, which often causes loss of immersion. He goes on at length about a variety of mundane topics, peaking with ten pages informing us about every major L.A. highway that serves only to bore readers by the time it’s over. The problem with these sections is that the majority seem so distant from the book, in contrast to the fact that their point is to tie everything together. They are written in such a different style that any personality Frey might have showed in his writing is completely lost and we are left feeling disjointed. It culminates with the majority of the last fifty pages discussing scattered side stories, and by the time we return to conclude each characters story, any desire for closure is gone. On a bright note, Frey attempts to make the stories feel more realistic and personal, and he succeeds in that, in addition to making the book more approachable and charming to the reader. His use of brackets are frequent throughout, either giving us smaller secondary details or including Frey’s own opinion on a topic.

Bright Shiny Morning is definitely not for everyone. I’d only recommend it to those who don’t plan on getting anything out of reading the novel, as the lack of focus quickly becomes apparent, but for those looking for an easy and somewhat interesting read, you could always do worse.


– Justin B.


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