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Paint It Black by Janet Fitch

Paint It Black (2006)

by Janet Fitch

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She writes with brilliant insight that gives her characters a lifelike dimension, enough that even if you have nothing in common with them you can still sympathize with their struggles. ( )
  Darth-Heather | May 31, 2016 |
A great modern coming-of-age story, full of heart-wrenching up and downs. I thought this was a excellent book but this is my first Janet Fitch novel, so I'm not sure how it compares with her other stuff.

Josie is a teenaged runaway who has worked her way into the rock and art scene in Los Angeles in the 80s. She models for artists and does parts in student films, and she is hopelessly in love with her well-off, Harvard-dropout struggling artist boyfriend, Michael. Completing this triangle is Michael's mother Meredith, a controlling well-known pianist who has practically disowned Michael for living with Josie, someone she sees as not good enough for him. When Michael is found dead after a suicide less than one chapter into the book, Josie is forced to face life (and Meredith) after her world comes crashing down.

This is definitely a book I will end up reading over and over again through the years because I admire and relate to the character of Josie so much. While she does turn to drugs and alcohol to console her pain, I see her as a brave soul who ends up choosing life over endless sorrow in the end, especially after she visits the motel where her boyfriend killed himself. I liked how the reader never really “met” Michael, but rather Michael’s character was memories that Josie and the other characters had of him. It makes Michael seem more distant and complex, leaving the other characters to create their own impressions of him for the reader.

However, the only things I was annoyed with was the part about Meredith and Michael possibly being lovers and the ending – the reason I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5. The speculation on Josie’s part about Meredith raping Michael seems a bit out of reach and too forceful. The maid never confirms or denies it when Josie asks her but I felt like this bad allegation against Meredith was just there to make the reader dislike her. In addition, I thought the ending was a little too blasé, Josie reading the notebook her boyfriend left behind and “saving” the girl who found him dead and taking her back to Los Angeles. It felt very abrupt, like throughout the book there was all this pain and hurt and then all of a sudden, after reading the notebook, she knew it wasn’t her that drove him to kill himself but his own inner demons and that was where her pain stopped. I’m not sure how it could have ended differently, but I just wasn’t happy with it. ( )
  elle-kay | Jan 27, 2016 |
When I picked this book up I really didn't think that more than half of the book was going to be about Michael's mother. Once I found that out I really didn't want to keep reading. I think I stopped for almost two years. When I picked it up again, I appreciated the book a lot more. I don't think the book flows well. But the meaning is beautiful. ( )
  momma182 | Jun 23, 2015 |
I wish I could wholeheartedly recommend Paint it Black. Janet Fitch has a lot of insight into human nature, and particularly human relationships. This is why you came to hear music. To stop being yourself, to let that thing you supposedly were go, and just be part of a mob, synchronized by the heavy beat, mesmerized by a singer with big smeary red lips, her spooky chant. Michael hated this, it was the worst thing he could imagine, disappearing into the mass – he didn't know how to submerge himself, he was the puzzle piece that fit nowhere. And she has a flair for details: "the flamelike Hebrew", "those eyes the color of aquarium glass seen sideways". But unfortunately, this quality of writing is representative only of the first third of the book. As other reviewers have pointed out, Fitch loses steam after page 150 or so, and continued reading becomes increasingly a slog to the finish. ( )
  Audacity88 | Jan 4, 2014 |
This dark tale of grief, love and loss was so engrossing from start to finish, I stayed up all night to finish it.

The main character is Josie, a lost soul in a harsh world who learns in the opening pages that her boyfriend has committed suicide while away, supposedly on a trip to his mother's house. Michael, whom Josie was deeply in love with, was a sensitive, gifted artist, but had begun pulling away from Josie in those last weeks of his life.

Josie is devastated and sinks into a deep depression as she tries to understand what happened, what she could have done to make a difference, and how Michael could have abandoned their love to go off and kill himself.

As the story goes on, Josie comes face to face (at the funeral) with Michael's equally devastated mother, who immediately lashes out at Josie, whom she considers to be poor white trash, blaming her for the demise of her only son. Thus begins a up and down relationship between the mother, Meredith, who is a world renowned concert pianist and Josie, the waif who is an art model who lives on the fringes of society.

The extreme depth of Josie's grief pours out in this dark novel...I felt Josie's confusion, her desperation, her agony of loss. The author conveyed Josie's pain very well.

As Josie interacts with Meredith, things begin to come out about the mother's relationship with Michael, a secret that Josie realizes could be the reason for this tragic outcome. Josie accuses Meredith of incest, but never really knows for sure if it indeed did happen. As she recounts Michael's references to his mother in the days before his death, she feels strongly that whatever transpired between Michael and his mother must have played a big part in Michael's decision to end his life.

Meredith is a famous pianist who has lived a charmed life, but begins to seek out Josie in order to learn more about this street girl who her son was so enamored by.....she holds Josie in contempt for causing her son to drop out of college in his senior year, even though Michael denied that Josie had anything to do with it.

Closer to the end of the book, Josie recounts a specific episode between she and Michael when she verbally attacks him out of frustration over his lack of communication in those last weeks, when he was growing more distraught....Josie did not understand what to do so she lashed out and said some very hurtful things....and as she relives this terrible moment in time, the crushing guilt causes Josie to consider whether she should end her own life as well, due to her inability to come to terms with everything that has transpired in her young life, along with feeling so alone in the world now that Michael has gone.

The ending was a bit abrupt and there was alot of foul language, but overall the book was absolutely outstanding. The book was incredibly emotionally powerful and I was absorbed from page one. While not everyone's cup of tea, this one earned a high mark from this reader. I would love to read more by this author. ( )
  porchsitter55 | Jun 28, 2011 |
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Janet Fitchprimary authorall editionscalculated
Kriek, BarthoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0316182745, Hardcover)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:24 -0400)

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"Josie Tyrell, art model, teen runaway, and denizen of LA's rock scene, finds a chance at real love with art student Michael Faraday. A Harvard dropout and son of a renowned pianist, Michael introduces Josie to a world of sophistication she had never dreamed existed and to his spiritual quest for the beauty that shines through everyday experience. But when she receives a call from the Los Angeles County coroner, asking her to identify her lover's dead body, her bright dreams all turn to black." ""What happens to a dream when the dreamer is gone?" This is the question Josie asks as she searches for the key to understanding Michael's death. And as she struggles to hold on to the true world he shared with her, she is both repelled by and attracted to Michael's pianist mother, Meredith, who holds Josie responsible for her son's torment. Joined by their grief, the two women are soon drawn into a twisted relationship that reflects equal parts distrust and blind need."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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