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Paint It Black: A Novel
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49 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2007
"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. If I have to read "punked-out bleached hair," "voddy," "ciggie," "Smirny," "Blaise," "Jeanne" or "Montmarte" one more time in my life I am going to go insane. (Hmmm, maybe that's what drove Michael over the edge, too...)

The maddening repetition is more than just these cutesy slang words used ad nauseam, though. Fitch repeats phrases and sentences from earlier in the novel over and over, too. Now, it's a great thing in a novel to connect with earlier chapters and scenes and come to new revelations. But just quoting earlier passages verbatim but--italicizing them!--is lazy, lazy writing. Fitch can do better.

All in all, a very big letdown. I'd have given it one star, but I do believe Fitch is a good writer. Her second book unfortunately doesn't show her talent at all. It's really a shame that so few literary agents and publishing houses are willing to give first-time novelists a chance at being published, because so many writers seem to have only one good novel in them. I'm afraid Fitch may be one of them.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2008
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
on February 25, 2007
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. Fitch attempted to create a mysterious and enigmatic woman whose true character was indecipherable to either Josie or myself. However, at the end of the book, Meredith's character seemed more unresolved and incomplete than intentionally cryptic and was very frustrating to me as a reader.

While Josie comes slightly more full circle, I still found her character resolution to be shallow. After enduring her perpetual mourning for the greater part of the novel, her coming to terms is too quick to be believable. Also, Josie's character did not strike a sympathetic note with me, especially when compared with Astrid, the compelling protagonist from Fitch's first novel. Josie's vulgar mouth, alcoholic tendencies and constant referral to vodka as "voddy" and cigarettes as "ciggies" left me annoyed rather than feeling compassion towards her.

The most developed character is, coincidentally, the one the reader never meets: Michael. Despite first being introduced as a stiff corpse, through memories, Michael comes across as Fitch's one complete character. Stuck in between the blue-blooded life of his mother and the bohemian, starving artists' world he shared with Josie, Michael chooses the ultimate out, leaving people, specifically the two women who loved and thought they knew him best, to pick up the pieces. Fitch achieves in accurately portraying Michael as internally tortured and yet provides the reader with a sufficient, thought-out resolution.

That same complete finality cannot be found at the end of the novel. The conclusion seemed harried and abrupt. When I turned the final page, I was surprised to see it was indeed the last one. Perhaps realizing her descriptive-laden story was like a meringue - fluffy and pleasing to the eye yet ultimately unfulfilling - Fitch brought up God, calling Him "just the man behind the curtain, working His cranks and levers," and Michael's previously unknown need for a Christ-like Savior in his increasingly desperate life. If present throughout the entire novel, these religious references could have made the book more meaningful. Instead, like that hastily finished term paper, they came across as a last-ditch effort to achieve legitimacy in an otherwise empty read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2008
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2008
I loved this book.

Although Josie is a hard-core, difficult young woman, her pain is real.

Fitch weaves Josie's present pain into the story of her love, the story of her childhood, and the story of her coming to terms with herself.

I thought this book might be too painful to read, but instead, it is mesmerizing, beautiful, and deeply involving. Los Angeles is depicted in its various neighborhoods. The prose is clear and brilliant, and except for Josie's need for it and the difficulties of Michael's mother, nothing is "Painted . . . Black."

READ THIS BOOK!
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44 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2006
Wow, what a disappointment! I adored Fitch's 'White Oleander' and was so looking forward to her next offering. Unfortunately, I was sadly let down by this endeavor and skipped over entire passages because so much felt redundant and repeated. Yes, we KNOW (and were told and told and TOLD) how much the main character was obsessed with her boyfriend who killed himself (because he was spoiled and weak) and he was very unlikeably portrayed- so why should I care? His mother seemed a backround farce and not very complex- more of a typical neurotic creative. We know how much Josie liked her 'voddy' (incredibly annoying how much that stupid phrase was repeated) and pills because SHE was weak- though Fitch tried to make her out as a survivor I wasn't convinced of it at all. Also, I was disappointed that Fitch did the typical 'female escape route' of portraying her character as so much about her looks and being attractive. How many times did we have to hear about her physicality? That's really all she had to offer which can not carry a whole story. Josie whined and moaned the whole duration in a repetitive 'woe is me' fashion, but she kept landing modeling jobs and (paid!) movie roles with a bunch of people continuously telling her how great she was! Very unoriginal and unrealistic as she was only 20 years old with no education and a played out white trash upbringing. She also had so many supposed associates that were 'in the know' cool. Yawn. Where was the real struggle here? A boyfriend killing himself when you are 20 years old is painful as hell, but you still have plenty of time ahead of you to live life and find love. What if she was 45 instead? Now THERE is a subject more worth reading about. When will a plain, average character be interestingly portrayed as rising up above her upbringing in a novel? If they don't have the 'special' looks they are screwed, obviously. Fitch just gave in to the same 'ol, same 'ol and it was quite a rambling, endless let down. But with her talent, I'm sure that she has some more great writing in her, this just wasn't it.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2006
...because I thought White Oleandar was brilliant. But this book? Not so much. I would not be surprised if Paint it Black were something Fitch wrote before she got her bestseller published. It felt much less fully realized. I found the text to be sprawling, unedited, self-indulgent. I generally have no problem with unreliable and/or unlikable narrators, but this one was more tiring than she was menacing. The whole book was written in one note, so I, too, agree with the "flat" description. I found the characters (the distant, brilliant, rich mother; the sassy best friend; the beautiful, troubled boyfriend) to be very stock and borderline cliche. I absolutely savored every word of Fitch's first book; reading this one, unfortunately, was like returning to a restaurant where you'd had the most amazing creme brulee of your life, only to find it cold and runny the second time you ordered it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Janet Finch is amazing. She turns sentences into works of art and in order to appreciate them you must be intelligent. To rate this book at a 1 or 2 is totally unfair to the potential reader and author. One must be able to appreciate the dark side of the human soul and the complexity with which the human mind struggles to do the right thing. If you enjoy an author that totally amazes you with her talent and characters who are troubled, you will really enjoy this book! I hope it doesn't take Janet as long to write her 3rd book as it did her 2nd.
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 14, 2008
Paint it Black was a much-anticipated book after my love affair with White Oleander. I still believe in Janet Fitch's ability to weave a tale that is mesmerizing and her endings are perhaps, in my mind, her greatest strength. Although I was at least a 1/3 of the way through the novel before it really captured my soul; when it finally took root, I was a captive until the end.

There was a lot in this book including the language, the sexual escapades, the drugs and the squalor of the lifestyles that did not immediately appeal to me. There were even times I felt some of the language or sexual descriptions went over the top. But, on reflection, that's what this entire novel does. It goes over the top and allows us, the reader, to peer into the dark underbelly of a lifestyle we may never otherwise encounter or wish to encounter. It's dysfunctional characters ring with authenticity, the abrasive language is all too real, and the plot goes down like poison.

Again, Fitch has managed to construct a startlingly original tale with fresh characters that crackle with their own dysfunctions and humanity. Fitch has a very good handle on writing about young women and the mother figures in their lives, as well as the love interests who permeate her stories. This novel again touches on the unequal power struggle between two women. Meredith is older. rich and famous, while Josie is young and barely making it in the squalor of the punked-out underbelly of the 80s of LA. Both are in love with one man--Meredith's son Michael; both feel they alone know him, yet ultimately neither of them can save nor possess him. The more Josie learns about Michael after his death, the more she feels betrayed and confused. But instead of burying her confusion in something beautiful as Meredith does with her concert tour, (Beauty said there was something more than just one f____ thing after another." ) Josie allows time to rest for a moment and stop all that senseless motion and as she retraces Michael's last days she takes on his mantle, uncovers her own truth at Twentynine Palms and begins to live again.

Fitch proves herself a master manipulator as she gracefully twists the plot and characters in versatile ways that will keep you wondering what the ending will bring. It ultimately had me cheering as Josie chose the right path for herself, instead of taking the easy way out that may have tempted a lesser soul.

Fitch paints the tragedy of loss with such pain and sadness that you can literally feel what the characters must have endured, even if you can't picture yourself in the setting. How does Josie keep Michael alive--well she attempts to keep Michael alive by believing and rescuing someone else who is in a great deal of pain and she becomes for Wilma what Michael has been for her--a muse?? Perhaps.

It was hard for me not to compare this book to White Oleander, which remains one of my favorites, but this work definitely stands on its own and is worth the read. It is a finely structured story of madness and love, darkness and eccentricity, love and friendship, in an atypical LA setting that I've not seen much written about in quite this way. This book is dark, but it brings light. It's sad but it brings hope. It was definitely thought provoking and I would highly recommend it to readers.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2011
When I first picked up this book, I had not really heard of Janet Fitch before. I bought it in a bargain bin at Barnes and Noble. I loved it instantly, and have re read it probably five times in the past two years. Its a tragic, dark tale about a woman who loses her lover when he commits suicide. It also talks a lot about the punk scene of the eighties. What I love about this book 1) The imagery and repetition. I know some people have complained about it, but to me, it gives it a poetic feel. The words she chooses in this novel are almost tangible. It makes the novel beautiful,masterful and dark in a way many books try to be but fail. 2) I actually love how flawed and impossibly self indulgent the boyfriend turns out to be. I feel like it is a pretty accurate representation of life. She has him on this sort of pedestal, even when they are fighting. When he is dead and she is really able to look at their relationship, she can see how really screwed up he is and lastly 3)I love how the book starts as a tragic, failed romance and ends with a message about the bonds of women. Furthermore, I really like that the heroine is 20 and really flawed. Because she is young, she feels things so intensely and he is her whole world, her salvation after a childhood of white trash poverty.
Janet Fitch really did her homework for this book too. Being a fan of most music, I looked up some of the songs they talk about in this book. They were all accurate and really appropriate for the novel. I love the way Fitch shortens words, creating a believable voice for her characters. Its like a really beautiful,sad glimpse into a young girl's life. To sum it up in three words: Breathtaking. Angsty. Unexpected. I love this book so much.
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