"Paint it Black"
(Reviewed by Guy Savage NOV 16, 2006)
"I think he thought he could rescue me. Like if he could do that, maybe he could save himself. Let the woman insult her. She had reached some quiet place, like a carved ivory ball down inside five others. The reasons lay one under the other—which ball was the real ball?"
After Janet Fitch’s phenomenally successful book White Oleander, readers waited with baited breath for her next novel. Those who loved White Oleander will no doubt enjoy Fitch’s long-anticipated novel, Paint It Black and its heroine, Josie Tyrell, a tough, independent bleached blonde from Bakersfield who’s scraping a living in Los Angeles. The novel is set in the early 80s against the vivid and aggressively alive Punk Scene, and Josie is an integral part of the crowd that haunts the small, grimy, smoke-filled, graffiti-covered Punk clubs and bars. These are troubled times, and over the course of two days, John Lennon is shot and killed, and Darby Crash, cofounder of the pivotal LA punk band, The Germs “killed himself in an act of desperate theatre.”
When the novel begins, Josie, an artist’s model and avant-garde film actress, shares a small house in a rundown area of Los Angeles with Michael Faraday. They seem an unlikely couple. As a teenager, Josie ran away from her miserable, underprivileged home and notoriously rotten family to come to Los Angeles. Michael, on the other hand, is an only child who has had every opportunity that money, privilege, and education can offer. But he’s dropped out of his senior year at Harvard to become an artist. Michael is currently at his mother’s fancy family mansion working on an art project—well at least that’s the story he told Josie, but Josie gets a phone call from the coroner’s office that Michael has committed suicide in a bleak motel in Twenty-Nine Palms.
While trying to cope with the aftermath of Michael’s death, Josie begins to realize that some things just don’t add up about the suicide. For example, Michael told Josie he couldn’t drive, and yet he drove a rented car to the motel where he was found dead. Josie attends Michael’s funeral and here she meets Michael’s divorced parents—writer Cal Faraday—who’s since remarried and has a new family, and Michael’s elegant mother, concert pianist Meredith Loewy. While Michael’s mother attacks Josie at the gravesite, Cal shows a vague, generalized kindness, but when Josie discusses Michael with Cal, it becomes obvious to Josie that Michael hasn’t been entirely honest about himself. Suddenly, Josie finds it “hard to know who to believe.”
Suicides always leave those left behind with questions, but in Michael’s case, Josie finds herself with the knowledge that there seem to be two Michaels—the Michael she knew and loved, and the confident, athletic affluent society Michael Faraday, only son of rich, famous parents. To Josie, it was as if “everything she’d thought about him was a lie.” In the aftermath of Michael’s suicide, Josie struggles with her memories while trying to make sense of the past year of her life—turning to alcohol and narcotics to blunt her pain. Through the course of the chapters, it slowly becomes apparent that Josie and Michael’s relationship wasn’t idyllic. While at first, everything seemed perfect, that façade of perfection has crumbled. Michael gave up his job, and was morose and withdrawn. Towards the end, Josie was resentfully trying to support them both by working three jobs. In retrospect, Josie can read the warning signs of Michael’s suicide—signs she both ignored and failed to read correctly at the time.
As Josie struggles to rebuild her life without Michael, the controlling ice-queen Meredith Loewy enters the scene, and the two women—the two who loved Michael best and who are struggling to survive his death--form a relationship, and a dangerous, destructive and seductive game of cat and mouse begins to take place….
In Josie, Fitch has once again created a tough, independent, and unforgettable female character—a woman who will survive in spite of the odds against her. While Meredith and Josie are sworn enemies, they uncannily share a number of character traits. They are both tremendously strong women who stand alone in society. Yet, Josie suspects that Meredith is inherently a “performer who saved the best of herself for…the upturned faces of the public.” And ironically, it’s through her relationship with Meredith that Josie improves her performance as an actress. While Josie is a part of the LA Punk scene, she’s also undeniably drawn to the ease and elegance of Meredith’s privileged world. Seduced by material comfort, Josie has to face some fundamental questions about identity in order to survive and fight the lure of wealth and the desperate hunger to belong. Paint It Black proves that author Janet Fitch’s phenomenal talent is here to stay. In this novel, Fitch has honed her stylistic skills, and her writing style has matured considerably. When it comes to description, unforgettable characters, and the power to evoke the immediacy of emotion, Fitch cannot be faulted.
- Amazon readers rating: from 131 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- Official website for Janet Fitch
- BookPage interview with Janet Fitch
- Salon.com review of White Oleander
- Washington Post review of Paint It Black
- Review of Books collection for Paint It Black
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About the Author:
Janet Fitch was born in Los Angeles, a third-generation native, and grew up in a family of voracious readers. As an undergraduate at Reed College,had decided to become an historian, attracted to its powerful narratives, the scope of events, the colossal personalities, and the potency and breadth of its themes. But when she won a student exchange to Keele University in England, where her passion for Russian history led her, she awoke in the middle of the night on her twenty-first birthday with the revelation she wanted to write fiction. It then took her another twenty years of writing, before she published White Oleander and became an "overnight" success.
Fitch lives in Los Angeles and currently teaches fiction writing in the Master of Professional Writing Program at the Universityof Southern California.