Using powerful character stereotypes of both the inhabitants and the state itself, James Frey’s Bright Shiny Morning idolizes and dissects the growth and differing views of California. Unearthing the gritty truths of Los Angeles in particular, it depicts the prevalent darkness within the world of America’s affluence, poverty, and the dreams that brought its inhabitants within the reach of the city’s clutches. The writer, prior to this breakout novel, was revered, then questioned as the non-fictional mastermind behind A Million Little Pieces, and now is considered by some critics to wield the power over L.A. similarly to the effect that James Joyce was able to deliver Dublin to readers decades ago.
Upon entrance to the novel, or upon our awakening to the first few chapters, if you will, we begin to follow the story of two young lovers; Maddie and Dylan, who escape their lives of constant disappointment and abuse in Ohio, travelling from broken homes to the hopeful shores of California. We meet Amberton Parker, a successful, confident, powerful, masculine action-hero-movie star with a hidden double life; one that involves not only his sexual preference, but his true nature as a spoiled, yet charming man who has always, and most likely, will always get his way. Esperanza next; the Mexican immigrants’ daughter, born on America soil, a bright shining youth with the intelligence and drive to make a name for her family, only to be hindered by her own self confidence concerning her appearance. Then Old Man Joe; who happens to be younger than he looks, a homeless man with only the “job as Boardwalk Hero,” (257) the use a bathroom outside a taco stand near Venice Beach and the taste of sweet, sweet Chablis as his saving grace. We encounter dozens of named characters, delivered on countless pages of which contain only short excerpts of their lives. Reducing people to statistics allows Frey to bring to light the gruesome facts of L.A.’s lost dreams and the believable stories of those who have made it, and made it big in Hollywood.
Frey peppers Bright Shiny Morning’s pages, chapter after chapter with the facts of L.A. that bring this novel back to earth, bring L.A. down from its pedestal enshrouded in glitz and perfection. Informational clips whiz by about the usage of L.A.’s highways, the building of separate townships such as Hollywood and Beverly Hills, the incorporation of a police force, and the eventual growth of organized crime. Evidence of the intention of suffering of the inhabitants who buy and sell firearms are intertwined with the hopes and well-meaning souls who come to make a life there. By offering all aspects of the personality of the city to us, Frey all but begs readers to dig deeper, to read past the initial stereotypes suggested within the characters presented to us. I strongly believe that the introduction to not only the chorus of voices heard, but the screaming of the undeniable facts of the growth of the city itself cries with a naturalistic volume. With the sum of the available noise within Bright Shiny Morning, Frey has successfully brought Los Angeles to life as a living, breathing, audible character in this book.