Saturday, October 13, 2007

Janet Fitch's "Paint It Black"

Janet Fitch is the author of White Oleander and Paint It Black, now available in paperback.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to Paint It Black and reported the following:
In the case of Paint It Black, Page 99 in the paperback edition finds us at precisely the crux of the novel's central problem.

The book revolves around the suicide of Michael Faraday, an art student and Harvard dropout, in 1980s punk rock LA. Page 99 finds his punk girlfriend, art model Josie Tyrell, sitting outside the Los Feliz mansion belonging to Michael's mother, Meredith, a concert pianist and diva extraordinaire. It's Christmas eve, a week after the funeral, and Josie remembers the day his famous mother summoned Michael home, after discovering he has left Harvard.

Now, sitting outside the great dark mushroom wall of the house, Josie understood exactly why Michael had brought her along that day. She had thought he wanted to introduce her to his mother, show her there was going to be a new setup. Announce they were together. But now she saw he was afraid he would weaken, give in, if she wasn't there to remind him of what he wanted, who he'd become in the months his mother had been away. He had drawn courage from her. She thought of Cal: Storming of the Bastille, you don't even know.

His father, Cal, knew what Josie knows now but at the time did not, how dangerous emotionally this moment would be for Michael.

The exchange between the three characters in the scene that follows is charged with all the issues of the novel: the mother's possessiveness of Michael, her impossible standards, Josie's disruption of the family romance, her support of Michael but her ignorance as to the depth and nature of his familial difficulties, and her introduction to Michael's elegant world, with its haunted overtones -- the house belonged to Meredith's father, an exile from Nazi Europe and a suicide as well. In the scene, Josie senses that this is the world from which Michael had to free himself from if he was ever to have a creative adult life.

The dance of attraction and repulsion which unfolds between the two women begins at that first meeting, and forms the spine of the novel. Natural adversaries, they are also strangely drawn to one another after Michael's death, for they were the only ones who knew him, and loved him, each in her own way. Each has a piece which the other wants. They pick through the minefield of their mutual revulsion for what each represents to the other -- permission vs. perfection, raw reality vs. high culture -- to reach out at a time of extreme vulnerability.

At at the heart of the book is Michael, a boy who only showed others what he wanted them to see. In life, Josie loved him enough to let him have his secrets, but now, she is driven to understand what brought him to his violent end.
Read an excerpt from Paint It Black and learn more about the book and its author at the publisher's website and the Paint It Black MySpace page.

--Marshal Zeringue