Paint It Black: A Short Review of Janet Fitch’s Novel

Paint It Black: A Short Review of Janet Fitch’s Novel

Having read and enjoyed White Oleander by Janet Fitch (reviewed on this blog, April 03 2007), I suspected that her novel, Paint It Black (Back Bay Books, Little, Brown & Company) would be a good read also. I was correct. I am reading slower than I used to. Perhaps it is the underlining and the marginal notes slowing me down, but I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. I’ve always loved stories about art, artists, musicians, and writers, and maybe that’s why I was attracted to this story of Josie Tyrell, and the tragedies, loves, and nemeses of her life. The novel is rich in allusions, intense in conflict, and the author’s prose and diction is rich. The novel is a portrait of Los Angeles and its bohemian rock music, film, and art scene. It is also a study of grief (over a suicide); of artists, creativity, and their quests for perfection; of dreams and dreamers; of the heavy hand of guilt; of beauty, love, loss, and sadness; and of how people live in and are supported by the music they listen to. Fitch has amazing and intense insights into the human psyche and heart.

I’ve tried to analyze why this novel affected me so deeply. Maybe it’s because I’ve known nude models like Josie and writers, artists, and musicians like Michael. Perhaps it’s because, like Michael, I am often haunted, and have my own personal demons, demons that refuse to be exorcised.

Here is Fitch’s website: She is a brilliant and insightful writer. Her writing deserves our attention.

Though there many more I could have selected, here are some of my favorite quotations from Paint it Black:

“Nobody ever really loved a lover. Because love was a private party, and nobody got on the guest list.” (1)
“[E]ven lies could be true, if you knew how to listen.” (27)
“She just kept talking, like a drunk arguing with ghosts . . .”(32)
“How right that the body changed over time, becoming a gallery of scars, a canvass of experience, a testament to life and one’s capacity to endure it.” (67)
“The stupid things you say in the rain, that can’t ever be washed away.” (81)
“Pen had no sense that someone might want to keep her private life private. Privacy wasn’t even a concept. She’d never closed a bathroom door in her life.” (83)
“Each man kills the thing he loves”—Oscar Wilde (This is repeated many times in the novel and has to be a theme).
“It was the way the world really ran, in little signs and signals.” (160)
“Girls were born knowing how destructive the truth could be.” (236)
“Sometimes things that happened were just too solid to move, like some huge bookcase or black breakfront that had dug its legs into the floor over the years.” (272)
“That kind of tenderness couldn’t be permitted to last. Nothing that beautiful could live long. It wasn’t allowed. You only got a taste . . . then you paid for it the rest of your life. Like the guy chained to rock, who stole fire . . . You paid for every second of beauty you managed to steal.” ( 278)
“You gave things away you couldn’t afford to lose. Private things. You showed yourself and you couldn’t take it back.” (306)
“Insomnia and the hulls of dead dreams blowing across the floor of the empty rooms like dry leaves.” (337)
“It was a mistake you could never recover from.” (351)
“(Her soul) A moldy old scrap only fit throwing away, not even the devil would take it on consignment.” (361)
(I love the desert, and I love this quotation Fitch has) “[S]he understood people who’d choose to live like that, isolated in a dry hard terrain, so far from comfort . . . Hard people, whose own company was even more than they could stomach.” (378) And here: “[T]he Arabs invented zero, because they were a desert people, at home with absence. . . This was his landscape, bitter cold, populated only by rocks and strange leafless trees, no softness or mercy, no touch of green.” (411)

Lyrics to “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes
I see a line of cars and theyre all painted black
With flowers and my love both never to come back
I see people turn their heads and quickly look away
Like a new born baby it just happens every day
I look inside myself and see my heart is black
I see my red door and it has been painted black
Maybe then Ill fade away and not have to face the facts
It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black

No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue
I could not foresee this thing happening to you
If I look hard enough into the settin sun
My love will laugh with me before the mornin comes

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

I wanna see it painted, painted black
Black as night, black as coal
I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky
I wanna see it painted, painted, painted, painted black