by JANET FITCH
Some authors should stop after their one-hit wonder novel.
I admit it: I found out about Janet Fitch from HBO or one of those television movie channels. I happened upon the movie White Oleander during a lazy afternoon and wound up watching the whole thing through — only to discover during the credits that there was a book.
I liked the movie well enough and so I read White Oleander, the novel. It’s a story about how the women in Astrid’s life paint on her like a canvas, and who she becomes as she grows up. It was a poignant tale about how the people around us affect who we become — and yet how we are none of them. I liked it so well that I actually decided to buy Fitch’s latest novel Paint It Black — in hardback — when it came out.
There’s $26.98 I’ll never see again.
And I never say this about books. Usually, even if I didn’t like it, I can think of someone who would, and I can give it to them. But I wouldn’t wish this book on anyone.
Josie Tyrell, Fitch’s main character, is a model whose only apparent talent is to create and “interesting object in space” with her body. That is not a talent. Tyra Banks, I’m looking at you. Being able to sculpt an interesting shape out of rock is a talent. Being a person a person with an interesting shape is mostly just dumb luck and makeup.
Meanwhile, her personality is grating. She is, predictably, into drugs and has a weird obsession with a type of cigarettes called Gauloises. They are French, yes, and usually this would make me like her better as a character (I have a thing with France), but she has discovered these cigarettes through her now-dead boyfriend. So really, she wasn’t even original enough to find them on her own.
And this becomes a theme. Josie seems to exist more as a grieving extension of Michael, her boyfriend who committed suicide. She doesn’t do much except remember him and get angry and blame herself and then try some new drug. Even her encounters with Michael’s mother, a concert pianist who theoretically could have spiced things up nicely, left me fairly nonplussed. I kept hoping that their exchanges would give me some reason, some overall message, to attribute to the book. But I’m still waiting, and the book is over.
Without that message, the story is just depressing. If there was any grand meaning to it, I’d say read on. But Josie’s struggle with getting over her boyfriend feels both immature and cliché — drowning sorrows in pills and liquor is a song I’ve definitely heard before.
What happened, Janet Fitch? I would have been ready to read almost anything you put out there, but now the bloom is off the White Oleander. If only you’d just stopped there.