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Paint It Blackby Janet Fitch
Synopses & Reviews
From the bestselling author of White Oleander, a powerful story of passion, first love, and a young woman's search for a true world in the aftermath of loss.
Josie Tyrell, art model, teen runaway, and denizen of LA's 1980 punk rock scene, finds a chance at real love with art student Michael Faraday. A Harvard dropout and son of a renowned pianist, Michael introduces her to his spiritual quest and a world of sophistication she had never dreamed existed. But when she receives a call from the Los Angeles County Coroner, asking her to identify her lover's dead body, her bright dreams all turn to black.
"What happens to a dream when the dreamer is gone?" is the central question of Paint it Black, the story of the aftermath of Michael's death, and Josie's struggle to hold onto the true world he shared with her. As Josie searches for the key to understanding his death, she finds herself both repelled and attracted to Michael's pianist mother, Meredith, who holds Josie responsible for her son's torment. Soon, the two women find themselves drawn into a twisted relationship reflecting equal parts distrust and blind need.
Passionate, wounded, fiercely alive, Josie Tyrell walks the brink of her own destruction as she fights to discover the meaning of Michael's death. With the luxurious prose and emotional intensity that are her hallmarks, Janet Fitch has written a spellbinding new novel about love, betrayal, and the possibility of transcendence.
"It has been more than four decades since Betty Friedan's 'The Feminine Mystique' was first published, but we still love those Cinderella-like fairy tales of pretty women from the wrong side of the tracks who, in the end, find their handsome princes. Library shelves groan beneath the weight of books with that plot, and the shell of the story provides steady material for the shopping mall multiplex.... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) But what if that handsome prince decides to kill himself? What happens to Cinderella?Such is the premise of Janet Fitch's second novel, 'Paint It Black.' Josie Tyrell is a 20-year-old runaway living in Los Angeles in 1980, making ends meet as a nude model for art students and as an actress in extremely low-budget films. She has escaped an embittered, impoverished family in Bakersfield, where everyone in her clan was known for being 'grubby and stupid and vicious as a rat,' and her older brother, Tommy, raped her when she was 13. Then, however, one of those art students, a handsome Harvard dropout named Michael Faraday, takes an interest in her. Faraday's father, Cal, is a successful writer, and his mother, Meredith, is a world-renowned concert pianist. Michael is educated, gentle and enlightened — everything, in essence, that Josie's family is not. The pair fall in love and live together in an L.A. cottage, where Josie continues to model and act and hang out with her punk-rock pals in the Southern California music scene, and Michael paints and makes a little money playing piano at children's parties. He constructs for her elegant pipe-cleaner circus performers. Their idyllic world begins to unravel when Michael grows depressed and tries to distance himself from Josie. It explodes completely when he disappears to a desert motel to kill himself, leaving Josie alone to try to understand how he could have done this to them. Fitch kills off Michael in the very first chapter of 'Paint It Black,' setting in motion two stories: first, the tale of Josie's despair; second, an exploration of the relationship she begins to build with Michael's mother. Before his death, Meredith detested Josie and blamed the art model for her son's refusal to return to Harvard; afterward, she realizes that Josie is her only remaining link to her son and tries to befriend her. Neither story moves at an especially electric pace. A little despair goes a long way, and in 'Paint It Black' there is a lot of despair. Whole chapters are devoted to it, and we experience Josie's sadness as she sleepwalks through modeling sessions and film takes, and while dozing in beds, on couches and beside swimming pools. She also drinks a lot of 'voddy' and smokes a great many 'ciggies.' The second plot, the saga of Josie and Meredith, never catches fire, either — though, in this case, there are a lot of attempted pyrotechnics. Does Meredith invite Josie into her home because she really wants Josie dead and plans to poison her? Did she and her son have a secret incestuous relationship? Will Meredith take Josie with her on a European concert tour? Most of these are red herrings — attempts, it seems, to add narrative movement to a novel that is anchored solidly in Josie's post-Michael torpor. Fitch demonstrated that she is an immensely gifted stylist in her poignant, beautifully written first novel, 'White Oleander.' In her second book, however, her prose occasionally verges on the overwrought: 'How those walls had once begged for violation, like a snarky virgin,' or 'And above them all, the giant Marlboro man squinted down from his billboard with testosterone scorn, like God sneering down on Creation.' Likewise some of her metaphors and similes — and Fitch loves metaphors and similes — are a trifle convoluted. In some cases, they are creative, but backward. To wit: 'Her lungs closed around the air hard, like fingers slammed in a car door.' And sometimes they are just overwritten, such as Josie's ruminations about her soul:'She tried to picture a soul. A white feathered thing, like your lungs, those wings. But hers was more like a rotten old bathing suit that had molded on the hook, it would tear clean apart if she tried to put it on. A moldy old scrap only fit for throwing away, not even the devil would take it on consignment.' Nevertheless, you can't help but like Josie and hope for the best. As she did with 'White Oleander,' Fitch has given us a courageous and interesting young woman who handles the bad cards she has been dealt with grace and resolve. No one, not even Cinderella, knows better than Josie Tyrell that life isn't fair — and no one, despite some very long odds, seems more likely to transcend the role of victim and succeed with or without her fairy-tale prince." Reviewed by
(hide most of this review)
"Bereavement, alienation and survivor's anger are the legacy bequeathed to the stunned protagonist of Californian Fitch's somber second novel." Kirkus Reviews
"Suspenseful, compelling, and superbly crafted, this work shows Fitch once again taking the art of writing to its highest level." Library Journal
"389 pages about suicidal fallout isn't beach fare. But Fitch's beautiful prose and emotional insight let in enough light to make the journey worthwhile." Oregonian
"Some of the best writing is in the last few chapters, a deft blend of suspenseful on-the-road storytelling, dramatic revelation, and sharp psychological insight." Boston Globe
"Janet Fitch has created a dark, crooked beauty that fulfills all the promise of White Oleander and confirms that she too is an artist of the very highest order." Los Angeles Times
From the bestselling author of White Oleander comes a powerful story of passion, first love, and a young woman's search for a true world in the aftermath of loss.
"A dark, crooked beauty that fulfills all the promise of White Oleander and confirms that Janet Fitch is an artist of the very highest order."--Los Angeles Times Book Review
Josie Tyrell, art model, runaway, and denizen of LA's rock scene finds a chance at real love with Michael Faraday, a Harvard dropout and son of a renowned pianist. But when she receives a call from the coroner, asking her to identify her lover's body, her bright dreams all turn to black.
As Josie struggles to understand Michael's death and to hold onto the world they shared, she is both attracted to and repelled by his pianist mother, Meredith, who blames Josie for her son's torment. Soon the two women are drawn into a twisted relationship that reflects equal parts distrust and blind need.
With the luxurious prose and fever pitch intensity that are her hallmarks, Janet Fitch weaves a spellbinding tale of love, betrayal, and the possibility of transcendence.
"Lushly written, dramatically plotted. . . Fitch's
"There is nothing less than a stellar sentence in this novel. Fitch's emotional honesty recalls the work of Joyce Carol Oates, her strychnine sentences the prose of Paula Fox." -Cleveland Plain Dealer
"A page-turning psychodrama. . . . Fitch's prose penetrates the inner lives of [her characters] with immediacy and bite." -Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Fitch wonderfully captures the abrasive appeal of punk music, the bohemian, sometimes squalid lifestyle, the performers, the drugs, the alienation. This is crackling fresh stuff you don't read every day." -
"In dysfunctional family narratives, Fitch is to fiction what Eugene O'Neill is to drama." -
"Riveting. . . . An uncommonly accomplished page-turner." -Elle
About the Author
Janet Fitch's first novel, White Oleander, a #1 bestseller and Oprah's Book Club selection, has been translated into 24 languages and was made into a feature film. A native of Los Angeles, Fitch currently teaches fictionwriting in the Master of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California.
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