Paint it Black is the long-awaited sequel to Beneath the Stain by Amy Lane. While it could possibly be read as a standalone novel, I would recommend reading these in order primarily because there is a wealth of relationship information in the first that will help you smoothly transition into the second novel and understand how tight knit this group of brothers is and how their extended family fits in. This second book focuses on one of those extended members, Blake, and the youngest Sanders brother, Cheever.
The Sanders band, Outbreak Monkey, has hit its stride and is on track to be one of the biggest stars in rock band history. With Mackey and Blake now drug free for nine years and the other brothers settled down with families of their own, the entire group lives together at a huge compound in LA while not on tour. Cheever is in his last semester, finishing his undergrad degree in Art, when a final class project critique destroys the wall that is holding him together and he crashes spectacularly with a drug overdose and attempted suicide. It’s Blake who is sent to help Cheever due to his older brother, Mackey, taking a fall during their concert and ending up in the hospital at the same time. What looks like just a spoiled young man acting out soon becomes the basis for a gut-wrenching journey of revealing past abuse and working toward healing.
Cheever clings to Blake for support and soon falls for the older man, but Blake still has a wealth of demons and old scars himself and can’t bring himself to trust that the feelings Cheever currently has for him are ever going to be something long-term and lasting. Now Blake must decide if he can handle having his heart broken when Cheever finally realizes just how broken and useless Blake really is.
Trying to encapsulate a nearly 400 page novel into a few paragraphs is impossible, but the gist of the story is pretty much what I’ve described. What is lost in the blurb and my summary are the layers of past experiences that bring both Blake and Cheever, as well as the rest of the guys, to the current day. To say there is a lot going on here is a huge understatement. But unlike the previous novel, this one seemed even grittier and focused on issues that will definitely be triggering for some. My heart really wept for Cheever—he was just flayed over and over again by a bully who used him horribly. I won’t go into detail about the scene that really floored me, but suffice it to say that when confronted by the past abuser, the lack of understanding on the guy’s part and what he had done to Cheever was undeniably one of the strongest and most horrible of this book, in my opinion. Just like most of the tender moments between Cheever and Blake, these scenes were what made the book really stand out and feel genuine. Between the intimacy that the author creates between Blake and Cheever and the confessions of how both had been abused in their young years, this novel really packed an emotional punch.
However, unlike its predecessor, Paint it Black seemed to have a strange shift in focus early on in the story from Cheever and his needs to Blake’s needs instead. Sometimes it almost felt callous and cold when person after person essentially threatened to make Cheever pay big time if he hurt Blake. I understood that, like most of the guys, Blake had a horrible life and survived near death addiction, causing he and Mackey to be intensely bonded, but truly if one more person had warned Cheever they’d hurt him if he broke or hurt Blake, I think I would have screamed. Yes, I got that they were trying to shield their best buddy from pain, but what about their baby brother? Didn’t he deserve that kind of attention as well? In the end, I felt like this book was more about Blake and his accepting he was a worthy individual rather than Cheever healing and learning his worth to the family. This split focus didn’t work for me and I felt the plot was weakened by it.
The other real difficulty I had with the novel was the constant dialogue in Blake’s head that said over and over again how much of a loser he was and how he really didn’t deserve to be a part of this family he had come to love. Again, I got that this was necessary to a point, but honestly it became this mantra that I felt was just overdone and overused and made me want it just to end already. Blake was repeatedly shored up by all the brothers—watched after and reminded how important he was–so for him to still be so deeply mired in self-loathing was just a too much for me.
Paint it Black had some very special moments and was a pretty compelling read overall. Amy Lane knows how to do angst and this book is full to the brim with it. For me, there were some issues that kept me from enjoying it as much as Beneath the Stain but still, as sequels go, this one will no doubt find an audience who enjoys being back with the band again.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.