Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: Paint It Black

 He made you feel . . . worth. That was his greatest gift, to see something more and believe it into being. But what happened when you were someone's idea, when the person thinking you up checked out? What happened to a dream without a dreamer?
-from Paint It Black by Janet Fitch


One of my favorite books of all time is Janet Fitch's White Oleander, so I have been anxiously anticipating Paint It Black (The book has been out for years, but I finally found the time and frugally made my way through the library's long e-book waiting list.). Unfortunately I am disappointed to report that Paint It Black pales in comparison to Fitch's breakout freshman novel.

Paint it Black is the story of Josie Tyrell, a white trash 20-year old artist's model in the 80s LA punk rock scene, and how she grieves after her affluent, tortured, artist boyfriend, Michael, commits suicide. Michael also leaves behind his famous pianist mother, Meredith. Both Josie and Meredith are essentially left alone in the world after Michael's suicide and work together and independently to try to reconcile what his death means for their respective futures.

She closed her eyes and pressed her face to his pillow, 
trying to catch his scent, but it eluded her, she could 
smell it  only by accident now, like a glance caught in a
 crowd, then lost forever. Out in the living room Louis 
Armstrong and the Hot Five played "Big Butter and Egg 
Man," and her heart lay crushed in an eggshell mosaic.

While I was disappointed by the novel overall, let me begin by saying that Fitch does not disappoint in delivering beautiful language and poetic prose that impress me the same way today as 10 years ago when I first first read her work. However, Paint it Black was exhausting in its repetition of experiences, ideas, and words. I feel that I could have skipped chapters 5 through 22 altogether and had a better experience reading this book. While a lot of the novel reflects on Josie's memories of Michael, it lacks action and dialogue, which made me feel bored and lethargic as a reader*. The only reason why I continued reading was because I loved White Oleander so much that I had faith that this novel would eventually stun me the same way. 

Another area of complaint is the character development; with as much time spent storytelling through the first half of the book, I didn't find any of the characters likable or multidimensional. It took reading almost the entire book before I felt something strong enough for Josie to care about her experience; each time Josie became somewhat likable, her own self-deprecation made me dislike her all over again. Michael is not likable because he is a liar; he has created a false perception of himself to everyone in his life making every "fact" about him questionable. His suicide only cements the fact that nobody will ever know who he was, not even the reader. The only character I enjoyed throughout was Meredith but it was because she reminded me so much of Ingrid from White Oleander. Both are strong-willed and fierce women on the outside, but psychologically damaged beyond measure inside. I enjoyed Meredith's outward cool composure and elitism knowing underneath the surface she was walking a tight-rope between control and insanity.

This woman had known Michael Faraday. She
knew what it meant to lose him. They were
sharing a respirator on the same airless planet.
As I mentioned, skipping chapters 5 through 22 may have made reading Paint It Black a more enjoyable experience for me. Once I got to chapter 23, the action of the story really began to develop and I found that Fitch delivered more in the conclusion than I was expecting. Family secrets and indicators of psychological discord are uncovered, Josie's repressed memories of her last days with Michael are revealed, and we finally get a more honest look into Michael's point of view. Overall, I'm glad I finished reading Paint It Black, but I was more satisfied that it was over than fulfilled by the conclusion.

They had been happy. If she forgot everything  
else in the world, she would remember that. 
She was the only one who could remember it now.

Bottom Line: If you really like long, repetitive, beautiful prose, by all means - give it a go! But if you're expecting all the action, characterization and emotional development of White Oleander, you may be disappointed. // 3/5 stars.

For Fun: If this book were to be adapted into a movie (which I heard is happening eventually), I would cast Neon Trees front man Tyler Glenn as Michael and use the Neon Trees song "Our War" as the lead song in the movie. I would cast Michelle Pfieffer as Meredith but mostly because she was flawless as Ingrid in the White Oleander movie (I admit my huge bias).
via / via

*I think it's important for me to note that there was a variety of other works that informed this novel; works in literature, music, art, etc. Perhaps I would have appreciated the book more had I familiarized myself with everything related to the story/characters. I found this list on Janet Fitch's website after I finished reading that you might find helpful.

When you read a book, do you find yourself mentally casting with relevant celebrities? What books have been turned into movies that you thought the casting was particularly exceptional/terrible? 

(I am addicted to casting books in my head! It makes me wish I would have studied to be a casting director!)


  1. i think i might need to read this!

    come say hi at

    have a great Friday!


Thank you so much for the feedback! Leave a note to let me know you dropped by and I'll come visit your blog, too! If I can't reach you by blog or email, I'll reply back right here shortly! Thanks again! xo