In Paint It Black, the follow-up to her smash debut, 1999's Oprah-anointed best-seller White Oleander, Janet Fitch goes into L.A.'s early-'80s drug-soaked punk-rock scene. Josie is a run-down, bleach-blond art school model, reeling from her painter boyfriend's suicide: ''How precarious life seemed. You were only tethered to it by a hair, and all these people sawing away at it.'' Her partner in grief, and a more interesting character, is her boyfriend's viciously narcissistic mom, a famous pianist. The two lash at each other's jugulars, their shared misery both a balm and a repellent. Would that Fitch had left the little punk to her vodka and speed, and zeroed in on the wicked older woman.