Sunday, November 16, 2008

Paint It Black: A Novel

Paint It Black: A Novel
By Janet Fitch (Author's Website)
Publisher: Bay Back Books
Published: May 2007
ISBN-13: 9780316065917
515 pages

First sentence: Cold numbed the tip of Josie Tyrell's nose and her ass, just outside the reach of the studio space heater.


Paint It Black: A Novel is by Janet Fitch, the author of the hugely successful White Oleander. This is my second attempt at reading the book. The first time was in January this year; I got depressed and couldn't go on, so I stopped. This time round, many months later, I pulled through and it is still one of the most depressing book I've read. Fitch did a great job in getting me all worked up and flinched.

When your life is great and normal, you would not give a thought to the lives of people like Josie Tyrell. Hers is one screwed life. If only we know what really goes on in her life (and people like her), we would not be so fast to pass judgement and condemnation. Then what seems like a privileged life for a young man--a talented person with a rich, seemingly fulfilling life--choose to end it in a suicide. Michael, that young man, falls in love with Josie but that love is not enough to pull him through. The story starts off on a dark note and it is bleak throughout.

Yet the truth was, she would have liked to be someone. To have some real talent, something to offer. It was her secret. That she would give anything to have been with Michael. With those gifts. It was so tedious to have ambition, to want to be thought special when you were flat-out ordinary. Though Michael thought she was better than that. He couldn't see how ordinary she was. It was just when she was around him, she was smarter, original. He was like those magnets that changed the shape of the fillings, made them stand up like hair. But now, she was back on her own. (page 172)

The author brings us into the lives of two people: Josie Tyrell, a punkish girl with platinum blonde hair, an art student who meets Michael Faraday, a Harvard dropout and the son of a renowned pianist. His mother, Meredith Loewy blames Josie for her son's death. Strangely though, these two women find themselves drawn to each other. She even goes to stay with Meredith for a while.

She drank her watered vodka, staring at the phone, the constellation of messages and numbers and scrawled genitals. The Loewys and the Faradays. People like that. The whole was theirs, why did they have to f*** with people like her? Couldn't they just be satisfied with ruling the planet? No. Look at Michael, he had everything, but it had combined inside him like a lab experiment gone wrong. It festered, it grew, it took away everything good and left him with a yawning emptiness she could never have filled. Look at Meredith. Aside from her music, what was she anyway? Just a frightened, middle-aged woman with money in the bank, money that couldn't keep her son alive, that couldn't do anything but call out more death. (page 316)

WARNING: The book contains explicit language and it can be disturbing. The passage below is just one of the many found in the book. There's even a place called the F***house to complete the scene, doing things that are unthinkable to many of us.
She still wanted him. Fiercely, as she had on that day, as much as she had the first at Meredith's, the way she'd always wanted him. He just wasn't like anybody else. She'd f***ed a lot of boys but never wanted any of them, that was the truth. That was the goddamn truth. She'd never felt a f***ing thing. And now she'd lost him, those hands on her body, those bony hips, his lips on her breasts [...]. (page 280)
I find Paint It Black a very, very disturbing read, but strangely beautiful; moving. Put yourself in Josie's shoes and feel what she is feeling. You will not be too quick to judge her as cheap or easy. Read how she struggles through that period of darkness in her life. I like the ending. I will not hesitate to read the author's earlier work White Oleander.