Janet Fitch’s Sophomore Effort

Janet Fitch is a very nice woman, although she’s a bit too particular about her tastes in literature (It’s one thing to dislike E.L. Doctorow, it’s another to insist he can’t write a sentence). On the sentence level, however, we find a key distinction between her bestselling White Oleander and her newest book Paint it Black. White Oleander had luxurious prose, sentences to cuddle up with at night. But Paint it Black sports much starker writing, words stripped raw by grief. Although the new voice fits the topic (a suicide and the aftermath), it’s simply not the voice she excels at.
The content of PIB doesn’t feel as strong as WO either. In the first few chapters of PIB, the protagonist vacillates between sorrow and fury so often that the intended effect finally wore off. This vacillation might have been pitch-perfect for what happens in real life, but it just didn’t work on the page.
Oprah probably won’t pick this one up, but that’s okay. Fitch has gotten past the sophomore hump and can start on her next offering. And besides, PIB hit 19 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list. She could be doing worse.

Update: Fitch just rose to #1 on the L.A. Times bestseller list on 10/8 (from five last week).



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