What would life be like if you couldn't feel pain? For Quinn, the nineteen year old son of a Boston fireman, this rare neurological condition means he is unable to fully comprehend human vulnerability or empathy. He lives without fear, sarcastic and self-destructive, to the dismay of Caitlin, his overprotective older sister. Quinn is a high school dropout whose only skill or passion is his artwork. The beautiful, violent and hallucinatory graphic novels he draws are a portal into Quinn's mind—and animation is sporadically mixed with live action as the fictional characters and storylines become increasingly intertwined with Quinn's reality.
Quinn lives with Caitlin, her firefighter husband Will and their small daughter. Caitlin, a nurse, is also caring for their dying father. Quinn refuses to talk to his father, unwilling to patch up emotional wound. His self-destructive behavior (he walks into traffic without looking, puts cigarettes out on his arm to impress girls, etc.) has Caitlin at wits' end, and she is torn between her desire to care for her brother and her husband's desire to institutionalize Quinn before he hurts himself or their daughter.
When Quinn's father dies, he reacts by sleeping through the funeral, getting drunk and having sex with a girl he brings home from the bar. This is the last straw for Caitlin. When Quinn is forced to choose between living in an institution or changing his behavior and getting a job, he responds by spitefully attempting to land the most dangerous job he can find.
He finds work in a family butcher shop, failing to inform them of his medical condition. Seventeen year old Bella helps her father run the shop. While Quinn feels nothing, Bella feels perhaps too intensely, weeping easily over stray cats and AT&T commercials. She is initially attracted to Quinn, thinking him dangerous and sexy, but soon finds him to be arrogant and selfish. Quinn is surprised at Bella's strength and decisiveness—she is certainly a tougher cookie than his usual conquests.
When Bella discovers the truth about Quinn's medical condition, she threatens to have him fired if he doesn't open up to her. She has seen his drawings and is intrigued; she wants to know how this insensitive jerk could have created those gorgeous pictures.
Almost against his will, Quinn begins to reveal himself to Bella. Although he resists telling her anything about the family history that haunts him and fuels his artwork, clues to the truth about his past begin to surface in his drawings. Disturbed, Quinn tried to hold back the emotions that are stirred up by his feelings for Bella, and the results are disastrous.
A terrible accident that threatens Bella's life brings Quinn's drawings frighteningly to life before his eyes. Unable to keep reality and art separate any longer, Quinn must face the past events that laid the groundwork for his lifelong rift with his father. Quinn's confrontation with his tragic past forces him to take responsibility for his actions and make amends with Bella and Caitlin, if it isn't too late . . .
Painless is a brutal examination of the way in which physical and emotional pain are necessary elements of human existence. Quinn is dragged, kicking and screaming, to the realization that he must be willing to risk pain in order to fully experience life and love.
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