Actor James Franco is ambitious but overstretched in his debut novel, Actors Anonymous.

Written in a variety of styles, Actors Anonymous is structured around a 12 step program – both the title and the steps being an allusion to Alcoholics Anonymous. The result of this structure is closer to a collection of vignettes than a novel, each with a distinct voice and writing style.

Franco has previously shown his writing talents in Palo Alto, a collection of short stories, and The Dangerous Book For Boys, based on an exhibition of the same name. Actors Anonymous is his first novel.

James Franco is an Academy Award nominated actor. He has starred in 127 Hours, Oz the Great and Powerful and This Is the End, and recently appeared on The Mindy Project.

Review: ‘Actors Anonymous’

The immediate problem of Actors Anonymous is that it can not be easily separated from its creator. Many readers will be understandably drawn to the novel because, although it purports itself to be a work of fiction, there are very clear parallels with Franco’s own life.

However, instead of a fictional story inspired by his experiences, Actors Anonymous delves too often into a self-indulgent and redundant commentary from Franco about his thoughts on acting, actors, and his own life. After several of these interludes, it becomes very clear that Actors Anonymous is far more concerned with Franco than it is with telling any kind of cohesive story.

Franco does not lack talent, and some of the fictional short stories such as “Faith and Victory” and “McDonald’s I” are engaging and original. If Actors Anonymous was another short story collection (without the indulgent non-fiction sections), the result would have been less disconnected. Unfortunately, the author’s own self-interest drastically outweighs any literary merit to the novel. The 12 step program is an intriguing structure, and it is unfortunate that it too is disregarded.

In recent years, Franco has lived his life as a piece of performance art. There is a sense, after completing Actors Anonymous, that the novel is just another piece in the puzzle that is James Franco. Perhaps the joke is on us, for taking it all so seriously.

Actors Anonymous is a book for people interested in James Franco, and if this book is any evidence, no one seems more interested in James Franco than he himself.

Actors Anonymous by James Franco is available now through New Harvest and Faber (distributed in Australia by Allen and Unwin)

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