||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