I finished Janet Fitch’s Paint It Black just a few minutes ago: a darkly beautiful, haunting tale about model/actress Josie Tyrell and living through the tragedy that is her boyfriend’s suicide. Dealing with questions such as, do we really kill that which we love? and whose fault is it, really?, Paint It Black is a glimpse into the soul of one who has gone through love and loss and is struggling to find the way back.
I had my misgivings about the book: I loved Fitch’s White Oleander and while I had high hopes for this book, I was worried about expecting too much. I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint, but I did approach with caution. Fitch’s lyrical style works best with the first person perspective of her first novel, but it still lent a haunting, heavy tone to Paint It Black which suited the book. It both drew you closer than a run-of-the-mill third person perspective could, but also kept you at a distance, the same distance that Josie wraps around herself and fuels the mysterious air around her (like her movie character Elena, “mysterious and haunted”).
The book delves into the mind and emotions of not just Josie, but the grief-stricken mother, Meredith, domineering and always striving for perfection before her son’s death tears apart her quasi-perfect world. It explores into the emotions going through Michael, when he was alive and seemingly destroying the very thing he stormed the Bastille for.
“To be or not to be… It’s the only question, really. Zero or one. Accept or reject.”
But that was the thing about zero. Its weakness. Even if zero had taken over the entire universe, the biggest fascist of all, one tiny gesture could deny it. One footprint, one atom. You didn’t have to be a genius. You didn’t even have to know that was what you were doing. You made a mark. You changed something. And changed zero to one.
It’s a depressing tale (I cried I don’t know how many times), hanging heavy and clawing right at your heart. Fitch has a way with words, a way of making you think without throwing everything at you, of creating both a bridge and a wall between you and grieving Josie, grasping Meredith, and troubled Michael. The book is like a black painting, seemingly dark and heavy, but if you look closer, let yourself see, there’s this silvery white paint shining from underneath: the True World, its beauty never entirely gone, if we only know where and how to look.