Janet Fitch,
Paint It Black
(Back Bay, 2007)

In this masterpiece, Los Angeles-area author Janet Fitch paints a vivid image of love lost among the backdrop of the punk rock scene of the 1980s.

Paint It Black is the story of Bakersfield runaway Josie Tyrell, who carved out her own alternative piece of paradise in the city of angels with her lover, Michael. Josie, a 20-year-old art model, independent film actress and punk rock groupie, found love and beautiful peace with a well-heeled Harvard drop-out-turned-artist. In the opening chapters, Josie is awakened by a call from the police, asking her to identify her lover's body, found in a fleabag desert motel with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

What happens to the dream when the dreamer is gone? In the aftermath of Michael's suicide, Josie re-examines their relationship, from her lover's rocky moods to his secretive relationship with his mother to the wonder and pain of their sexual relationship. Josie gets entangled in a love/hate relationship with Michael's mother, an internationally renowned concert pianist. The two would like quite literally to murder one another, but when they lose the man who was the focal point of each woman's life, neither has anything to live for. The "other woman" is the closest tie each one has to their lost love. Michael's death triggers a release of secret facets of his self, sides that were buried deep in his relationship with both his mother and his lover. Josie fiercely respected his privacy and artistic proclivites when he was alive, so she is shocked by her discoveries of his true self.

Paint it Black delivers a vivid, descriptive experience. The plot is driven by cogitation and observations, by intense sensory and emotional encounters. The dialogue is exquisite, but it plays second fiddle to the unspoken conversations, memories, jealousies and pain of the twisted relationship two women had with a depressed young man. The ending of the novel is pure genius, a subtle but unexpected turn for Josie, one that provides the possibility of future personal peace for the protagonist.

As in Fitch's first best-seller, White Oleander, a controlling and edgily homicidal maternal figure plays a central role in the plot. (She also published a brilliant young-adult coming-of-age story called Kicks in the mid-1990s.) As a reader, I enjoyed the novel for its literary profundity, but also for its unique setting, for the experience of being consumed by the alternate reality of drug- and alcohol-fueled '80s punk music and art.

book review by
Jessica Lux-Baumann

12 February 2011

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new