In her latest novel, Paint It Black, author Janet Fitch asks: How can you save someone when he didn't let you know him? Josie Tyrell is devastated when her aspiring artist boyfriend, Michael Faraday, is found with a bullet through his head in a room at the seedy Paradise Inn Hotel in Twenty-Nine Palms.
An artist's model and aspiring student actress, Josie spirals into a web of self-denial.
In Michael, Josie thought she had found her one true love. Struggling to hold on to the memories of their life together like "a couple of bohemians, living on air in Echo Park, scornful of the comfort and power money could buy," Josie embarks on a willing journey of self-annihilation.
Born into a world of wealth and privilege, the son of world famous concert pianist Meredith Loewy, Michael's life was one of international travel, swank private schools in Ojai, and unsullied expectations. But now he is gone, and his mother Meredith holds Josie accountable for all of her son's anguish and suffering.
During Michael's funeral service, Meredith tries to strangle Josie, screaming at her, accusing her of murdering her beloved son.
Later, back at Josie's Echo Park home, the older woman telephones, threatening her and then
trying to run the girl over.
While Meredith becomes ever more needy, her life of control and privilege
steadily unraveling, Josie becomes gradually more attracted to this strange perfectionist with her expensive pearls, luxurious accoutrements and implicit richness.
Meredith sees Josie as unsophisticated, just a trashy white girl from Bakersfield, an "Oke." She despises Josie for
the crime of loving her son "but not loving him enough to save him." When Meredith asks Josie a favor, Josie finally gets her enticing glimpse of Meredith's glamorous world, which was once also Michael's world.
Ultimately Josie and Meredith are confronted with the knowledge that they have no control over the aftermath of Michael's death. As the ramifications that Michael is never coming back begin to sink in, Josie loads up on vodka and percodets, dope and cocaine. Blind, deaf and mute, she falls into the darkness, desperately trying to immolate herself.
Fitch manages to burrow deep into the heart of Josie and Meredith's inner
lives, exploring the dynamics of class and the importance of family. The women clash over the small agonies of rivalry, fighting over the detritus of Michael's life, the paintings he'd given up on and the books he'd stopped reading, the "journals whispering in the dark."
The wasteland of Michael's death also forces them to shape an uneasy alliance; Meredith finds solace in her music while Josie begins to retrace the steps of Michael's life just before he died, urgently looking for answers. Set in Los Angeles in 1981, the novel is a tour de force of imagery and metaphor, a profound work of literary fiction that brings this inscrutable city to life.
Neither woman can really handle the nakedness, vulnerability or the repercussions of Michael's rage.
In his death, there are many more punishments in store for them, everyday something new. Written with a startling emotional clarity and insight, Paint it Black is an intricate, nuanced exploration of the effects of death, love and regret, "spreading out as a feat of loss with ever more courses."