Summary and book reviews of The Painter by Peter Heller

The Painter

by Peter Heller

The Painter
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  • First Published:
    May 2014, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2015, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elena Spagnolie

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About this Book

Book Summary

Peter Heller, the celebrated author of the breakout best seller The Dog Stars, returns with an achingly beautiful, wildly suspenseful second novel about an artist trying to outrun his past.

Jim Stegner has seen his share of violence and loss. Years ago he shot a man in a bar. His marriage disintegrated. He grieved the one thing he loved. In the wake of tragedy, Jim, a well-known expressionist painter, abandoned the art scene of Santa Fe to start fresh in the valleys of rural Colorado. Now he spends his days painting and fly-fishing, trying to find a way to live with the dark impulses that sometimes overtake him. He works with a lovely model. His paintings fetch excellent prices. But one afternoon, on a dirt road, Jim comes across a man beating a small horse, and a brutal encounter rips his quiet life wide open. Fleeing Colorado, chased by men set on retribution, Jim returns to New Mexico, tormented by his own relentless conscience.

A stunning, savage novel of art and violence, love and grief, The Painter is the story of a man who longs to transcend the shadows in his heart, a man intent on using the losses he has suffered to create a meaningful life.

BOOK ONE
Mayhem
OIL ON LINEN
40 x 50 INCHES
COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST

I never imagined I would shoot a man. Or be a father. Or live so far from the sea.

As a child, you imagine your life sometimes, how it will be.

I never thought I would be a painter. That I might make a world and walk into it and forget myself. That art would be something I would not have any way of not doing.

My own father was a logger, very gentle, who never fought with anyone.

I could not have imagined that my daughter would be beautiful and strong like my mother. Whom she would never meet. Or that one afternoon at the Boxcar in Taos I would be drinking Jim Beam with a beer back and Lauder Simms would be at the next stool nursing a vodka tonic, probably his fourth or fifth, slurping the drink in a way that made ants run over my neck, his wet eyes glancing over again and again. The fucker who had skated on a certain conviction for raping a twelve year old girl in his movie theater downtown, looking at me now, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The Painter opens several years before the rest of the narrative, in the bar where Jim fired the shot that changed the course of his life. Why do you think the author chose to open on this moment? How did it color your reading experience? Your perception of Jim?

  2. An Ocean of Women is a painting born out of a comment made by Irmina. What was your interpretation of this painting? How does it relate to Jim's treatment of women? Discuss Jim's relationships with the following characters: Irmina, Sofia, Celia, Cristine. What similarities, if any, exist in how he treats each of these women? What does he admire about the women?

  3. Discuss Jim's relationship with Sofia. Why do you think he hesitates before initiating a physical ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Heller's respect for art and literature as means of expression, his gorgeous descriptions of the landscapes, his driving plotline, and his complex characters all combine to create a thoughtful and deeply satisfying read. I recommend The Painter to people who appreciate the outdoors, to people who could spend twenty minutes contemplating one painting in an art museum, and to people who prefer gray spaces to black and white. Two thumbs up.   (Reviewed by Elena Spagnolie).

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Media Reviews

O, The Oprah Magazine

A riveting second novel from the author of The Dog Stars . . . An artist settles into a quiet new life in Colorado after serving time for shooting a man in a bar fight--and reconnects with his old rage.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [Heller] explores the mysteries of the human heart and creates an indelible portrait of a man searching for peace, while seeking to maintain his humanity in the face of violence and injustice.

Booklist

Starred Review. Heller's writing is sure-footed and rip-roaring, star-bright and laced with 'dark yearning,' coalescing in an ever-escalating, ravishing, grandly engrossing and satisfying tale of righteousness and revenge, artistic fervor and moral ambiguity.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Difficult to define by genre, this novel embraces themes of personal loss and growth, drama and suspense, while also including plenty for those who enjoy art or nature fiction. Highly recommended.

Reader Reviews

Diane S

The PAinter
When I first started this book I had some trouble getting into it. What kept me reading were the wonderful words and beautiful descriptions of scenery and wildlife and the compelling, but complicated persona that is the character Jim Stegner. This is...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Artwork in The Painter

Art plays a very important role in Peter Heller's vibrant and introspective second novel, The Painter. Narrator Jim Stegner describes various famous works of art as a way of processing his emotions. He expresses how the colors and textures of each masterpiece affect him at a deep level, and he ponders what these emotions mean about his personality, his mental state, and the human condition. It's a fascinating way to get to know a character; to peek inside Stegner's thoughts as he encounters a painting for the first time and understand how his feelings relate to the context of the painting itself - when, why, how it was created. Below are images of four paintings he mentions in the book, brief historical and technical descriptions of those ...

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