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The Painter: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 6, 2014

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Editorial Reviews Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, May 2014: Following up on the success of The Dog Stars, his post-apocalyptic literary debut of 2012, Peter Heller now pivots in a slightly different direction. The Painter is a contemporary Western about a 45-year-old artist and fly fisherman named Jim Stegner. Having lost two wives to divorce and his only daughter to violence, Stegner has felt the sting of life; but he’s also capable of experiencing great beauty, whether through his art, his relationships, or while out casting on a river. Heller skillfully balances these two sides of his protagonist, painting a portrait of a man whose dark edge can explode in unexpected ways (the first line of The Painter is "I never imagined I would shoot a man)." As the action moves forward, Heller proves adept at describing both peace and violence, and his second novel establishes him firmly in the tradition of writers like Kent Haruf, Thomas McGuane, and Cormac McCarthy. --Chris Schluep

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Heller’s first novel, The Dog Stars (2012), a muscularly literary postapocalyptic tale, became a blazing best-seller. Here he takes the frenetic energy down a notch without diminishing suspense as he portrays an artist with “the heart of a killer.” Though renowned and well off, with a top gallery in Santa Fe, painter Jim Stegner is haunted by grief and guilt. He served time for shooting a dangerous man who made lewd remarks about Jim’s blossoming daughter, who later died under circumstances he can’t bear to think about. Seeking peace in the glories of land and sky and the Zen of fly-fishing, Jim has just settled into a small house in the Colorado wilderness, where he’s painting with great intensity, inspired by the best model he’s ever had, smart, tough Sophia. Then he encounters a man brutally beating a horse. Jim ends up murdering this notoriously violent, much-feared hunting outfitter, putting an abrupt end to his quest for serenity. As Jim duels with the police and the dead man’s kin, he keeps painting, creating provoking, elegiac, and jubilant works fueled by anguish and love. 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. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (May 6, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385352093
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385352093
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (710 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #322,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Heller is a longtime contributor to NPR, a contributing editor at Outside Magazine and Men's Journal, and a frequent contributor to Businessweek. He is an award winning adventure writer and the author of four books of literary nonfiction. He lives in Denver. Heller was born and raised in New York. He attended high school in Vermont and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire where he became an outdoorsman and whitewater kayaker. He traveled the world as an expedition kayaker, writing about challenging descents in the Pamirs, the Tien Shan mountains, the Caucuses, Central America and Peru.At the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he received an MFA in fiction and poetry, he won a Michener fellowship for his epic poem "The Psalms of Malvine." He has worked as a dishwasher, construction worker, logger, offshore fisherman, kayak instructor, river guide, and world class pizza deliverer. Some of these stories can be found in Set Free in China, Sojourns on the Edge. In the winter of 2002 he joined, on the ground team, the most ambitious whitewater expedition in history as it made its way through the treacherous Tsangpo Gorge in Eastern Tibet. He chronicled what has been called The Last Great Adventure Prize for Outside, and in his book Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet's Tsangpo River.

The gorge -- three times deeper than the Grand Canyon -- is sacred to Buddhists, and is the inspiration for James Hilton's Shangri La. It is so deep there are tigers and leopards in the bottom and raging 25,000 foot peaks at the top, and so remote and difficult to traverse that a mythical waterfall, sought by explorers since Victorian times, was documented for the first time in 1998 by a team from National Geographic.

The book won a starred review from Publisher's Weekly, was number three on Entertainment Weekly's "Must List" of all pop culture, and a Denver Post review ranked it "up there with any adventure writing ever written."

In December, 2005, on assignment for National Geographic Adventure, he joined the crew of an eco-pirate ship belonging to the radical environmental group the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as it sailed to Antarctica to hunt down and disrupt the Japanese whaling fleet.

The ship is all black, sails under a jolly Roger, and two days south of Tasmania the engineers came on deck and welded a big blade called the Can Opener to the bow--a weapon designed to gut the hulls of ships. In The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet's Largest Mammals, Heller recounts fierce gales, forty foot seas, rammings, near-sinkings, and a committed crew's clear-eyed willingness to die to save a whale. The book was published by Simon and Schuster's Free Press in September, 2007.

In the fall of 2007 Heller was invited by the team who made the acclaimed film The Cove to accompany them in a clandestine filming mission into the guarded dolphin-killing cove in Taiji, Japan. Heller paddled into the inlet with four other surfers while a pod of pilot whales was being slaughtered. He was outfitted with a helmet cam, and the terrible footage can be seen in the movie. The Cove went on to win an Academy Award. Heller wrote about the experience for Men's Journal.

Heller's most recent memoir, about surfing from California down the coast of Mexico, Kook: What Surfing Taught Me about Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave, was published by The Free Press in 2010. Can a man drop everything in the middle of his life, pick up a surfboard and, apprenticing himself to local masters, learn to ride a big, fast wave in six months? Can he learn to finally love and commit to someone else? Can he care for the oceans, which are in crisis? The answers are in. The book won a starred review from Publisher's Weekly, which called it a "powerful memoir...about love: of a woman, of living, of the sea." It also won the National Outdoor Book Award for Literature.

Heller's debut novel, The Dog Stars, is being published by Knopf in August, 2012. It will also be published by Headline Review in Great Britain and Australia, and Actes Sud in France.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

134 of 146 people found the following review helpful By Nicole Del Sesto on March 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The first thing I want to say about this book, is how much it made me further appreciate the brilliance of The Dog Stars. You read a debut novel like that and you don't know if that's always the writer's style. And stylistically, you can see echoes of that writing in this book, but in reading this book you can also feel the deliberateness of the writing in Dog Stars, and that makes it even more special in retrospect.

The opening lines of the book "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's the story of this book. The exploration of Jim Stenger as a man, a father, an artist. Heller explores the emotion of art, violence and grief. All masterfully. The emotion and the art, laid out for you raw to experience for yourself. Not told to you. I contrasted it with the recently popular "The Goldfinch" where at every step you were told how important art is, and how you should feel about it. There is none of that in this book. It just is. I think I fell a little bit in love with Heller reading this book. A man who is so unflinching in his exploration of feeling, trying to come to terms with who he really is in contrast to who he thinks he is.

I'm not sure if this book will have the same appeal as The Dog Stars, but I loved it. The violence in The Dog Stars was contextual. I guess you need to decide for yourself if the violence in this book is as well.

"It can be a dangerous place to be, for me. Displaced in time. I am not fully responsible for the now because the now has repudiated me...."
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Ryan J. Dejonghe TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 6, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Last year I was bothered by something I read in an online writers’ forum—that writing is not art. It wasn’t just the statement, but mainly that it was posted by a writer. If anything can help disprove that statement and prove that writing is indeed an art form, then Peter Heller’s THE PAINTER is it. This book is an expression from an artist about an artist. As the protagonists ponders, “Nobody, not even artists, understand art.”

THE PAINTER is the story of Jim Stegner: painter, father, lover. Human. The opening lines set the mood brilliantly: “I never imagined I would shoot a man. Or be a father. Or live so far from the sea.” Jim is a troubled man, wanting to be at peace with the world: seemingly always going in the opposite direction. He’s haunted, yet kind; brilliant, yet weak. He has a tough, enigmatic exterior, with a confused, sensitive interior. As he asks himself, “Can I say that I feel happy? First time in how long? No. Won’t say it. Shut up and inhale and drive.”

Heller’s writing provides a unique voice that is consistent throughout. It feels casual with its detailed descriptions: laid back, yet anxious to go. Some may define this writing as “stream of consciousness”; I prefer to label it as near-poetic. There are plenty of references to poetry throughout, including direct quotes from many poets. My favorite reference being a quote from T.S. Eliot. Don’t let that poetry reference fool you; there’s plenty of action. Heller’s character is not a docile painter of the “Great American Southwest Post-Expressionist Naïf”—his troubled past exponentiates into a near-catastrophic present. As the protagonist Jim Stegner prays, “Grant me, grant me, oh Lord, relief. From all my [f-ups].”

In the end, THE PAINTER is more about life than it is about art.
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164 of 201 people found the following review helpful By Charlotte Vale-Allen VINE VOICE on April 12, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I adored The Dog Stars and recommended and/or gave it to every book lover I know. It was a lyrical, profoundly felt, exquisite creation.

I started off The Painter happy to be immersed again in Heller's lyrical prose. Even violence has a certain logic to it, whether or not it's reasonable to the reader's mind. But Heller created a character brimming with so much self-pity and such an enormous, seemingly innate, drive to violence that it simply didn't make for good reading.

The book comes to life intermittently when Jim Stegner, the painter and dry-drunk [not attending AA meetings, no sponsor], works on his art. And it falls into, Are-you-kidding-mode? when, without any warning, the man turns killer. For me, The Painter started its descent from the heights at that point. What happens is shocking because it makes no sense. He is, supposedly, a sensitive, loving soul who creates wonderfully vivid and perceptive images, but he keeps going after men who say or do things that bother him. Are we talking manic-depressive here? Are we talking of someone who goes into fugue states? What's going on?

And how come Jim never once questions how the murdered Dell's brother, Grant, or Jason, a member of the brothers' family, manage to keep turning up where he is, no matter how distant, how out-of-the way he happens to be? Are they using GPS? Long, detailed descriptions of where Jim is going and yet here's Dell's Brother Grant, coming right behind, with retribution in mind. Ditto with Jason, promising revenge, on Jim's tail wherever he goes. How?

The women in this book are all mystically magical; knowing, potent creatures who can restore this man to soundness. Really? We're in fantasy land on this aspect of the story.
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