Paint it Black by Janet Fitch

Paint it Black by Janet Fitch

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover, 387 pages, 2006

Rating: 8/10

Reason for Reading: I liked White Oleander.

Synopsis: Josie Tyrell is a troubled teenager with no real direction other than which way the LA music scene blows, but she thought she had a chance at real love and a real life with Michael, an artist who turned his back on his rich and cultured family to be with her. But obviously she didn’t read the situation quite right, as she’s forced to identify his body after his suicide. She finds herself haunted by his enraged mother, Meredith, who couldn’t believe her son would chose Josie and ultimately death over all that she had to offer him, and she won’t stop until she’s figured it out or driven Josie to the brink herself.

Why you should read this book: Teens dealing with suicide while doing rampant amounts of drugs doesn’t make for the most feel-good novel of the year, but sometimes you’re just in the mood for something a little dark. Fitch does a nice job capturing Josie’s misery and longing for answers, as well as the desperation that keeps drawing her back to Meredith, despite their mutual hatred. The twisted relationship between the two is the most interesting part of the book, as they claw at each other and yet size the other up for the love that Michael gave to such an opposite personality. This book very well could have slid into Oprah’s (original) Book Club, as did Fitch’s debut, White Oleander; so whether you read Paint it Black depends on whether that falls into the ‘good thing’ or ‘bad thing’ camp, but the writing style generally makes it worth the read.

Why you should avoid this book: It just doesn’t feel like Fitch pushed herself to make Paint it Black into something more than a collection of bad feelings from a teenaged girl. Without Meredith to punch some life into the story, this would be Just Another Teen Novel – it’s hard to care about a character that doesn’t care about herself, and Meredith’s whirlwind personality is a lot more mesmerizing than junked-out Josie. Maybe Fitch needs to give up the teen characters and move them up a decade or two in age.

Opening paragraph:

Cold numbed the tip of Josie Tyrell’s nose and her ass, just outside the reach of the studio space heater. Her leg had fallen asleep. She twisted her slight torso, enough to release tension, but not enough to disturb the painter working across the room in his paint-spotted Mao suit, his hair in a waist-length braid. Henry Ko wasn’t painting well today. He had to stop every few minutes to wipe his eyes on the back of his hand, while Double Fantasy circled around on the studio stereo. Everyone was playing it now. John Lennon had just been shot in New York, and wherever Josie went, people were playing the same fucking Beatles songs until you wanted to throw up. At least Double Fantasy had Yoko Ono.

Fabulous quotes:

Lola Lola wasn’t there yet. In the kitchen, someone had filled the Sparkletts bottle with a Windex blue liquid. Pen and the others filled paper cups, but Josie passed. Whatever they’d put in the Windex blue wouldn’t do her any good tonight. What she needed was booze and some downers, the wine and bread of forgetting. They went out onto the rooftop. A spread had been laid, bean dip and crackers and wedges of cheese, little éclairs, the label must have splurged.
‘Hey, Josie,’ she heard behind her, a familiar voice, unwelcome as VD.

‘We should try sometime without that.’ He grinned. ‘Nobody’s ever complained.’ She was afraid he was going to adjust himself in his pants. Thank God all he did was brush his hair back with his hand.
Nobody ever complained? Girls were kind. No one ever told him, I could barely stay awake. If only you’d come faster, I could have ignored it altogether. Girls were born knowing how destructive the truth could be. They learned to hold it in, tamp it down, like gunpowder in an old-fashioned gun. Then it exploded in your face, on a November day in the rain.

Also recommended: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides; The Girl I Wanted to Be by Sarah Grace McCandless; Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards.

Also by this author: White Oleander.

Would I read more by this author? Maybe if she wrote about older characters next time around.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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