Esquire is featuring Franco’s new short story, “Just Before the Black,” with the teaser: “Author (and actor) James Franco offers this story about how it’s only right before you die that you know you’re living.” The story is from his new short story collection, Palo Alto. And, while I’m not going to critique his story other than to say that he seems to have attempted to blend Raymond Carver, Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx, and perhaps Edmund White, I will say that “Just Before the Black” is a gay coming out short story. But don’t let me try to convince you. Here are some excerpts:
I wish I was Mexican, or Hebrew, I mean Jewish, I mean Israeli, or Mexican Jewish, or Mexican Jewish gay, because it can be so boring being you sometimes, and if you were the most special thing like that, it could be really great, but maybe some people say the same thing about you, and you want to tell those people: “No, you’re stupid, it’s no fun being me.”
There is an argument to be made that the use of the word “gay” here is not intended to be part of the “Mexican Jewish” call for changing oneself, but, instead, means the same thing as “you,” as in the narrator. The gay narrator is being modified. Reaching too far? Then perhaps this will convince you that this is a gay story, a gay coming out story:
“Would that be so bad?” I say. “Don’t you ever get jealous of those girls in pornos that get to be on their knees in the middle of all those dicks?”
“Are you fucking serious?” says Hector.
“Don’t,” says Joe. “This faggot is always asking stupid questions and giving stupid answers, he don’t mean it.”
“No,” says Hector. “This faggot is serious.” He’s looking at me now, I can tell.
“Yeah,” I say. “Don’t you like the idea of an around-the-world blowbang?”
“I like to have a girl suck my dick, but I don’t want to do it,” says Hector.
“Me neither,” says Joe, but he is mumbling.
“Why not?” I say. “What’s the difference?”
“What’s the difference?” says Hector. “Because I am going in, and she is being got inside of.”
“And why is one better? Why does going inside make you better? Aren’t you like on her turf inside her, isn’t she in control of you? Like a mommy with her little baby making him feel good?”
“Because,” says Hector. But he doesn’t say anything else.
James Franco has done some very gay things in the past, but this, this seems, by far, the gayest. We know how he thinks about being gay. And, I gotta say, he thinks about bottoming in a very gay way. I also think it’s notable that this story is the first short story that has been released by Franco.
We have a narrator who wants to change himself, change an immutable characteristic, and, in an odd moment, tells his friends that he really really wants to suck dick, that he has dreamed of a “blowbang,” and then, well, I won’t tell you how the story ends, but you can probably guess. Either way, see what you think.