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PAINT IT BLACK by Janet Fitch

PAINT IT BLACK

By Janet Fitch

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 2006
ISBN: 0-316-18274-5
Publisher: Little, Brown

Bereavement, alienation and survivor’s anger are the legacy bequeathed to the stunned protagonist of Californian Fitch’s somber second novel.

Josie Tyrell is a 20-year-old artist’s model, sometime-actress and substance-abuser whose already chaotic life in L.A.’s underground artistic environs is further unsettled when she’s notified that her boyfriend, Michael Faraday, has killed himself in a rundown motel. As she did in her Oprah-selected White Oleander (1999), Fitch structures this as a contest between two determined women: embittered Josie (who’s intent on learning why her rapturous life with Michael, a struggling artist, wasn’t enough for him), and Michael’s mother, Meredith Loewy, a celebrated concert pianist and smothering matriarch whose attitude toward Josie vacillates between homicidal resentment and almost sisterly empathy. This backward-and-forward momentum at least varies Fitch’s numbing concentration on Josie’s emotional outrage, as does a subplot involving an independent movie in production (whose cluelessly smug director envisions it as “Bergman meets Hitchcock in Antonioni’s unmade bed”), a preening sex machine who calls himself Nick Nitro and a handsome young actor who worms his way into Josie’s bed without ever eliciting a response from her. But the changing relationship of Meredith and Josie is central, and the story almost catches fire as Fitch peels away successive layers of pretense to reveal each woman’s hidden story (Meredith’s history of losing other loved ones before Michael, Josie’s uncomfortable memories of her white-trash family and sexually threatening older brother). Yet it wallows in self-pity and indignation, even in the climactic pages, where Josie believes she knows Meredith’s real secret, returns to that motel and acknowledges the truth about Michael, which she has unsuccessfully repressed: “He loved me, but he hated himself more.”

Vivid writing here and there, but Josie is a dull character, and the story is a real downer.