three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
25-Nov-Dec-2006
By: 
Janet Fitch
user_rating: 
0

A-Paint It BlackJosie Tyrell, abused and neglected as a child in Bakersfield, California, nonetheless kept her wits about her when she ran away to Los Angeles and joined the punk-rock scene. There she meets her exact opposite, Michael Faraday, a brilliant, 22-year-old Harvard dropout. Son of an acclaimed pianist and famous writer, Michael’s tests the artistic waters himself and falls in love with Josie when she models for his art class. Despite Michael’s mother’s disapproval, Michael introduces Josie to his privileged world and they live together until he decides to end his life (revealed in Chapter 1). As Josie tries to understand Michael’s death, she becomes entwined with his mother, Meredith—and starts to learn more about herself.
Little, Brown. 387 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 0316182745

San Diego Union-Tribune 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Fitch’s fans should know that while the plot is very different, her new book returns to many of the same settings and themes she introduced in White Oleander, this time exploring them in an even deeper way. … Fitch demands more of her readers than many modern novelists, but she offers more in the way of reward." Debra Ginsberg

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Part love story, part competition, part haunting, part possession, [Michael’s and his mother’s] bond is the stuff of psychologists’ fantasies. … In Paint It Black, 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." Nina Revoyr

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"With Fitch’s typical aplomb, Paint It Black brings to life personal tragedy with the sort of bold, cinematic precision that her devotees have come to expect, re-creating the punk rock scene of 1980s Los Angeles so vividly that readers can almost smell the mosh-pit B.O. … Writing with the daring ferocity of a West Coast Mary Gaitskill, the sure-handed Fitch harnesses her truly triumphant entry onto the literary scene with this rich second novel." Andrea Hoag

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Fitch creates amazing landscapes—from the view from Josie and Michael’s apartment of the Hollywood sign, Griffith Park, and the green copper domes of the observatory, to the stark desert wasteland of Twentynine Palms. The emotional landscape she creates is just as rich, peopled by characters that buzz off the page, crackling with despair and determination." Ashley Simpson Shires

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"The second plot, the saga of Josie and Meredith, never catches fire, either—though, in this case, there are a lot of attempted pyrotechnics. … 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." Chris Bohjalian

USA Today 1.5 of 5 Stars
"When you don’t care about two of the three major characters in a novel, it doesn’t matter how good the writing might be. Paint it dull." Deirdre Donahue

Critical Summary

Critics can’t help comparing Janet Fitch’s highly anticipated second novel with her best-selling debut and Oprah’s Book Club selection, White Oleander (1999). Comparisons seem apt; both novels feature an intriguing young woman dealt a bad hand; vivid portraits of Los Angeles; depressing themes; and raw, lush writing. However, the similarities end here, since reviewers agree that Paint It Black almost—but perhaps not quite—measures up to White Oleander. Fitch does an admirable job of exploring Michael’s questioning of his life, Josie’s despair, and the pair’s ambivalent relationship with his domineering mother. Most lauded Fitch’s exceptional depiction of the city’s "high" and "low" life. A few critics cited sagging plots and poor secondary character development. In the end, however, Paint It Black exhibits Fitch’s ample talents.