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Paint It Black: A Novel Paperback – October 3, 2007

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Editorial Reviews Review

Following the huge success of White Oleander, where Janet Fitch portrayed the coming-of-age of Astrid, a young girl placed in foster care after her mother murders a former lover and goes to prison for life, she has once again created an indelible portrait of a young woman in Paint it Black. Josie Tyrell is a teenage runaway, an artist's model, and an habitué of the '80s LA punk rock scene. She is a white trash escapee from Bakersfield, having left a going nowhere life there. Now, sex, drugs and rock n' roll inform her days and nights. Paint it Black is the perfect title choice because Josie's lover is never coming back, as the song says.

Josie meets Michael Faraday, son of concert pianist Meredith Loewy and writer Calvin Faraday, long divorced. He is everything that she is not: refined, wealthy, well-traveled, brilliant by fits and starts. He is also a Harvard dropout, leaving school so he can paint; his new obsession. He refuses help from his mother, who is furious about his decision to leave school, but it doesn't bother him to have Josie working three jobs to support them. He is given to black moods, frozen in amber by his perfectionism, contemptuous of those who do not agree with him about art and life. Josie adores him. One day much like any other, he leaves their house, saying that he is going to his mother's so that he can paint in solitude. Instead, he goes to a motel in 29 Palms and shoots himself in the head.

What follows is days of watching Josie in a near fugue state from grief, drugs, booze, and going over and over her love for Michael, trying to grasp how he could do what he did. After all, didn't they share the "true world," Michael's characterization of their cocoon of love and exclusivity?

Meredith calls her and says, "Why are you alive? What is the excuse for Josie Tyrell? I ask you." Ultimately, they form a tenuous relationship, because all that is left of Michael lives in the two women. Josie even lives with Meredith for a while. When Meredith is ready to go on tour again, she asks Josie to go to Europe with her. Before she can do that, she must go to 29 Palms and try to understand, finally, why Michael's depression pushed him over the edge. That puzzle is not solved, nor can it be, but the end of the story is a hopeful, upbeat, new beginning. Janet Fitch has beaten the curse of the sophomore slump with this dynamite second novel. --Valerie Ryan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Leigh's nuanced, intuitive narration makes Fitch's novel even more powerful. Leigh's narration brings out all the conflicting emotions and undercurrents of teenage punk rocker Josie as she struggles to deal with the suicide of her talented but emotionally tormented lover Michael. Leigh invests simple repeated lines like "Michael was never coming back" with different emotions each times: first she's trying to wrap her mind around the unthinkable, an urgent sense of panic, a burst of anger at the unfairness of life and at Michael for abandoning her, and finally a desolate sob of despair and loss. She ably evokes all the emotions of grief—the numbness and feeling of unreality, the rage, the sense of hopelessness, the longing for solace and normalcy. When reading Josie's dialogue, Leigh speaks in the low, wary tone of a girl who's been kicked around by life too many times. In contrast, she reads Michael's mother, Meredith, in confident, melodramatic, upper-class tones, her voice turning sinuous and seductive as she tries to manipulate Josie. In Leigh's capable hands, Fitch's compelling psychological character study resonates even more strongly on audio.
Copyright© American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books (October 3, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316067148
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316067140
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (204 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #224,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Janet Fitch was born and raised in Los Angeles, a third generation Angelino.
She attended Reed College in Portland Oregon, graduating with a degree in history, and attributes much of her storytelling ability to her training as an historian. Since then, she has worked as a proofreader, typesetter, graphic artist, newspaper editor, magazine editor, freelance journalist and teacher of creative writing--not to mention Manpower Temp and worst waitress in Los Angeles. If she spilled coffee on you, she apologizes.

Her second novel, Paint It Black, has just appeared in paperback and in Dutch, Italian, Swedish, German, Hebrew and Polish. Jennifer Jason Leigh performs the audiobook. Fitch's first novel, White Oleander was an Oprah Book Club selection, and was translated into 24 languages, including Mandarin, Turkish and Finnish. It served as the basis of a motion picture starring Michelle Pfeiffer, and the audiobook is read by Oprah Winfrey. Her early young adult novel, Kicks, sometimes surfaces. The anthology Los Angeles Noir (Akashic Noir) and Black Clock 7 both carry recent short stories.

Fitch currently teaches fiction writing at the University of Southern California Master of Professional Writing program. She regularly participates in the Squaw Valley Community of Writers summer workshops, and will be teaching at the 2008 Virgina Colony for the Arts' summer program in France. She lives in Los Angeles, in the hills where Rena Grushenka's girls picked trash in White Oleander.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 60 people found the following review helpful By arb on April 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"White Oleander" is absolutely brilliant, one of my favorite books ever, so I was eager to read Janet Fitch's second novel. Unfortunately, "Paint it Black" doesn't hold half a stubby, burned-out candle to "White Oleander." I really wish I could say otherwise, because I loved Fitch's writing in her first book. Her second book just isn't, frankly, very good. I finally finished the turgid, endless thing yesterday and I'm so happy I don't have to read it any more.

Why does this book fail? My top three reasons:

1) There's almost no dialogue in the whole thing. And since they're so mute, the characters don't come to life at all.

2) I didn't care about any of the characters. At all.

And the thing is, characters don't have to be likeable for a reader to be invested in them. Fitch did a freakin' genius job of making evil Ingrid Magnusson of "White Oleaner" intriguing, attractive, even sympathetic in a twisted kind of way. Meredith Loewy of "Paint it Black," on the other hand, is a stick-figure Rich Bitch. Yawn.

Her son Michael, suicide victim, is supposed to have been oh so great: handsome, talented, erudite, smart, loveable. However, all of his actions show him to have been a snob, a pathological liar, and a whiny, overprivileged downer. Sure it's sad when anybody offs himself, but with this guy there ain't a lot to miss. It's hard to understand why Josie was in love with him in the first place.

And then there's our heroine Josie, who spends most of the book wandering around L.A. in a drunken stupor thinking the same thoughts over and over. This might be OK if it were a short story. As a novel it's unbearably boring.

3) Other reviewers have been spot-on when they've said the book is REPETITIVE.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By C. Kantin on January 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
A truly intoxicating novel. Janet Fitch has a formidable command of the English language. As I got deeper into Paint it Black, I was captivated. Not only while I read, but the days between. Very rarily are my thoughts hi-jacked this way; skewed, to a different, yet fascinating angle. The reason is that her writing is so uniquely descriptive it takes you there, makes you think, and holds you long after you've finished.

True to its title, it is a darker novel and is not for someone looking for an "easy read." Like a movie which does not insinuate the murder scene; you are not spared the details, both physical and emotional. It is an experience that challenges the reader to absorb. I have never read anything quite like it.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Josephine Lee on February 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Reading Janet Fitch's disappointing sophomore novel is much like reading a term paper written hours before its due date. The flowery prose, repetitive descriptions and excessive use of metaphors and similes do not mask the fact that the story is still empty, lacking substance or depth.

"Paint it Black" tells the story of 19-year-old protagonist, Josie Tyrell who deals with her live-in boyfriend Michael's suicide. Michael, a depressed artist, shoots himself in a hotel, leaving Josie behind. Josie develops a love-hate relationship with Michael's mother, Meredith, a famous pianist. The two women, despite their differences and marred past, find a common bond in being the only people who truly feel the void left at Michael's passing.

Like she demonstrated in her popular and critically acclaimed first novel, "White Oleander," Fitch is a talented, eloquent writer. Sentences like, "Her headache wound around her forehead, a crown of tequila thorns," are present all throughout the novel, painting a vivid picture. However, many of Fitch's descriptions, are repeated incessantly. Josie, the protagonist, is described as having "bleached hair" with "dark roots," wearing a "yellow, fake fur coat," driving a " rattly blue Falcon" and smoking her "Gauloise cigarettes." After the hundredth page, I was well aware of her appearance and habits and found further redundancies to be a way to fill space rather than examples of imaginative writing. Similar repetitive descriptions are given of Meredith and the house Josie and Michael shared.

Furthermore, the long, complex sentences do not mask the lack of plot and character development. What story-telling there is seems muddled, unclear and inconclusive. This is especially true with Meredith.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stolen Buttons on July 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a truly beautiful book.

You feel every weighted emotion Josie goes through, your heart taken by a hold so strong that you almost understand what it would feel like for your one true love, the one thing you cherished most, to commit suicide unexpectedly. How do you put together the pieces of a world fallen apart?

But the real basis of this story is passionate and unwavering love. A love the guides you in the understanding of life and the people that make up the world around you. A love that teaches you to see the world in color after only seeing black and white. A love that will never fade even though the body does.

Whole and complete, fulfilling in every way, Paint it Black is my favorite book and one of the most worthwhile reads you will ever encounter. It's true art and Janet Finch never ceases to amaze me with the exquisitely crafted stories she tells.

Read it, you will not be disappointed.
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