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111 of 119 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Art. Violence. Grief.
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,...
Published 7 months ago by Nicole Del Sesto

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127 of 158 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars SOOOOOO DISAPPOINTING. [ Possible spoilers alert]
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...
Published 7 months ago by Charlotte Vale-Allen


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111 of 119 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Art. Violence. Grief., March 27, 2014
This review is from: The Painter: A novel (Hardcover)
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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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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The story of an artist, written by an artist., May 6, 2014
This review is from: The Painter: A novel (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. But aren’t they synonymous? I think this in-book quote sums it up nicely: “What more really can be at stake except life itself, which is why maybe artists are always equating the two and driving everybody crazy by insisting that art is life.” So, if you want art, read this book. If you want insight into an artist’s soul, read this book. If you want pleasure in the literary, read this book. In other words, read this book.

Thank you to Knopf and Random House for providing this book for me to review.
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127 of 158 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars SOOOOOO DISAPPOINTING. [ Possible spoilers alert], April 12, 2014
This review is from: The Painter: A novel (Hardcover)
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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. It's never clear just exactly what Jim is bringing to their tables. He's perpetually in a wounded state and women show up to heal him. Hmmmn. Not in the reality most of us know.

The characters in this book who best come to life are all secondary players: a pair of little-girl twins and their mother, Bob at the service station. But the major figures fail, in the main because they are simply unbelievable.

That Heller has painted ugly kill-worthy pictures of the Siminoe brothers, doesn't validate Jim's murderous behavior. By the time I got to the end of the book -- hoping all the way for some sort of redemption -- I was just very sad and deeply disappointed that such a gifted writer had created such a basically unsympathetic character upon which to hang this tale. I can only hope he finds his way to something more worthy of his efforts with his next book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Writing, Unpleasant Character, May 15, 2014
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1789 (Willamette Valley) - See all my reviews
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Heller is an extremely gifted writer, a true pleasure to read. Unfortunately, it is difficult to appreciate very much about his lead character, the painter. While we can all appreciate a deeply flawed man who is trying to work his way through a difficult situation, that is not exactly what we have here. The painter appears to be a deeply flawed and extremely self absorbed man who follows any impulse that happens to enter his consciousness, consequences be damned. Beyond that, I found his ability to attract young and amazingly beautiful women to be very hard to understand. At no point in the book did I read any description of this character that would lead me to think he would be much of a prize for any woman, much less the supermodel variety. As to the ending, I will say no more than, for me, it was a bit of a let down.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leap and die or live and be haunted..., April 30, 2014
This review is from: The Painter: A novel (Hardcover)
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At first glance, it seems that The Painter – Peter Heller’s ravishing second novel – has little in common with Dog Stars, his debut book that positioned him as a writer to watch. Yet each, in its own way, chronicles a journey toward spiritual regeneration, a journey to finding grace in a merciless universe.

The Painter reconfirms that Peter Heller has a massive talent. Our narrator is Jim Stegner, an expressionist New Mexican artist, an avid fly fisherman, and the father of a teenage girl whose life ended tragically. He also has a self-defined heart of a killer (the very first line reads, “I never imagined I would shoot a man. Or be a father. Or live so far from the sea.”) Yet as we quickly discover, Jim is a murderer with sensitivity: he rids the world of a lowlife who viciously abused a vulnerable little roan.

The dichotomies of Jim’s life – his artwork and the murder – represent his two polarities, the art of creation and the art of destruction. And both serve a more important goal: freeing himself (and the world) from pain and moving toward redemption. (Jim reflects, “To paint simply and to feel a cooling, the calmness of craft, of being a journeyman who focuses on the simple task: pin this one corner together and make it fit in an expanding universe.”)

As Jim’s paintings become more inspired, borrowing from what is happening in his life and his soul, he gradually moves from personal loss to growth. Mr. Heller writes, “Because the process has always been craft, years and years; then faith; then letting go. But now, sometimes the best work is agony. Pieces put together, torn apart, rebuilt. Doubt in everything that has been learned, terrible crisis of faith, the faith that allowed it all to work.”

The Painter can be read on many levels. On its most surface level, it’s a suspenseful narrative of a tortured man and brilliant artist who must evade the authorities as well as the vengeful clan of the man he killed. On a deeper level, it’s a book about grief and the dark places it takes us, and the ways that we struggle for understanding and the regeneration. On another level yet, it’s about how art can help us transcend our demons by capturing and recreating them. It’s a brilliant book and I can’t wait to see where this author goes next.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars He deals with every problem by going fishing, April 12, 2014
This review is from: The Painter: A novel (Hardcover)
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And Jim Stegner's got some serious problems, like cops who want to send him to jail for murder, and vengeful men with guns out to kill him. On top of this, he's unable to get over the tragic death of his teenage daughter. But fishing is pure joy, as is painting, for this outrageous post-Expressionist artist.

The heart of the story has to do with the moral dilemmas Jim Stegner gets himself entangled in. Stegner is a bar fighter and brawler who's given up drinking but not the red hot anger that goes with it. His violent impulses, always unleashed in a good cause, lead to all sorts of trouble. The painter's creative process contrasts with his destructive behavior.

At first I found the story painful reading. I was put off by the painter's arrogance and self-pity. But Stegner's flaws make his struggles to learn from life all the more interesting. In the end, it's more fun to read about an SOB than a saint. And he's an SOB with a good heart. Still, I never quite got over my distaste for some of the painter's exploits.

Here are the things I liked most about this book: the ecstatic descriptions of fly fishing, the lyrical descriptions of the experience of painting, Stegner's funny conversations with his greedy art dealer, the vivid picture of the Santa Fe art scene, the amusing reactions of the cops to Stegner's edgy art, the unpredictable unfolding of the plot, the quirky ending, and, not least of all, the wild car chases and shoot-outs.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars His Best Work, May 11, 2014
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I am very glad I got over my initial hurdle with this fine novel---as Heller has created his own style that can be alarming at first (like double spacing between paragraphs--and no italics in dialogue)--then I realized--this is how I write letters now! Do NOT let this minor thing throw you off! By the end of the book--I liked it.
To be honest--I have lived in the exact areas where this novel takes place--the southwestern slope of Colorado--Taos--Santa Fe--and the magical spaces between--for the last 17 years. So rather obscure place names (Ojo Caliente--places around Santa Fe) are familiar to me. And I went to high school with the author--but this made me MORE critical (oddly)!!
While I enjoyed "The Dog Stars"--this new book is much better IMHO. I am not a big "post-apocolyptic" story fan. I am much more interested in the here and now or recent past. "The Painter" is intense---like Jim Harrison mixed with a touch of James Lee Burke---2 of my very favorite writers. It is not for the faint of heart. But there is a powerful message in this story--and the characters were easy for me to identify with--like the location (no coincidence?).
If you love the Southwest (or not) and love a fast-moving and gripping story about love and loss--creativity and rage--karmic consequences--then I believe you will love this book as I do....
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark story, beautiful writing, April 27, 2014
By 
Daffy Du (Del Mar, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Painter: A novel (Hardcover)
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Jim Stegner, Peter Heller's protagonist in The Painter, is a man possessed--by the memory of his murdered daughter, by the need to paint to soothe his soul, by his passion for fishing (also to soothe his soul). And at the same time, he doesn't really understand what drives him when he's overcome by rage and commits acts of violence. He's a complex character, and that complexity, plus Heller's exquisite prose and astute observations about life, are what make The Painter a satisfying and memorable book.

That said, it's also very much a man's book, IMO. That isn't so say that I didn't appreciate Heller's artistry or his philosophical insights. I did. But it seemed to me that the themes are very much ones dogging the heels of men in American society, and as a woman, I didn't relate to them as readily. Give this book to the art-loving, outdoor-loving and literature-loving males in your life. I imagine it will be a big hit.

The cover copy and other reviews have covered the plot and characters well--how Stegner, who did time for nearly killing a man who was eyeing his young daughter, attacks a man abusing a horse and later kills him. How the man's family come after him and how he plays a game of cat and mouse with them and law enforcement, all while leading up to a painting commission he doesn't really want. Stegner is a loose cannon, but he's also likable and usually on the side of what's right, even if he doesn't necessarily go about it the right (or legal) way.

All the characters in The Painter are interesting and multidimensional, even when they only put in a short appearance. Stegner's longtime friend Irmina, who's somewhat psychic and utterly steadfast; his model and new lover, Sofia, who's an independent woman who doesn't conform to any stereotypes; the family commissioning a portrait of their twin daughters; even the cops, Stegner's neighbor and the guy who runs the local gas station--all come across as real people you might want to get to know better, and it makes for a completely believable novel.

Heller is clearly an immensely gifted writer, and I will be interested to read his future books. Four and a half stars for a book well worth the time to read it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heller Paints with Words, May 6, 2014
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This review is from: The Painter: A novel (Hardcover)
When you've written a book as good and successful as "The Dog Stars", it's inevitable that your next novel will attract attention and comparison. Peter Heller's new novel, "The Painter", does share many attributes of his previous work; it is narrated by a "manly man", Jim Stegner, via short paragraphs and short sentences broken with longer descriptive passages. It also has some intense suspense.

But I never could really warm up to Jim. He is a man with utterly no impulse control and not enough self-awareness to realize that all his problems, faults, crimes and sins have been 100% from his own poor choices. A recovering alcoholic, he knew he needed help to get sober, but doesn't seem to realize he also needs help with his violent reactions. Jim always makes the violent choice; he runs when he should stay in place, he hides when he should stand tall, he accelerates when he should apply the brakes. The plot is propelled by Jim's ill-conceived actions, and the attending consequences provide the suspense.

Jim is both a fly fisherman and a painter. Heller details both activities, and while I wasn't very interested in fly fishing (other readers will be), I was very interested in the life, techniques and business concerns of the artist. Through Jim, Heller beautifully describes both Jim's fictional paintings as well as real paintings that exist in our world. I looked up all of those works on line and compared them to Heller's descriptions and analysis and I was able to take a "deeper" look into those pieces. This was my favorite part of the book. In this novel Heller proves his artistry as a "word painter" - his prose is absolutely gorgeous.
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27 of 35 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Giving one full star cause 1/2 isn't an option., May 9, 2014
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The Dog Stars was a great book. I bought my son a copy after reading it myself. I like the author's style, sparse but lyrical. I really wanted to like this book. Really. But it was a total fail for me. I kept waiting for this guy to have some sort of epiphany that it wasn't all about him. It never happened. I didn't like him, more...I actively disliked him, and pretty much every one else in the book. The story was compelling, and could have been rescued by warming this guy up, adding some sincere empathy, taking his focus off of himself. I don't often write reviews, although I read daily, and a lot; but I was just irritated enough with myself for finishing this book that I felt I had to have my say. There. I've had it.
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The Painter: A novel
The Painter: A novel by Peter Heller (Hardcover - May 6, 2014)
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