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The Painter: A novel
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on October 15, 2017
I am a devoted fan of Peter Heller's novels. What intrigues me most is that he captures the chaos of the mind when beset with physical or psychological threat. His characters weigh alternatives under threat, assess options, make a plan, however tenuous, pray, and then jump over a proverbial cliff to see what wil happen.

Women are joyful, intelligent people who are not just along for the ride, they are intrinic to its direction and resolution. Heller's writing celebrates and respects women in all their diversity.

In Heller's books, the divine is praised and cursed equally, with the author firmly coming down on the side of divine intervention and hope.

Each book is a gem. This one is perhaps a bit wilder in style, but that same wildness suits the questions and passions of the creative processes Heller explores.
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on October 15, 2015
Jim Stegner is a relatively well known artist, one of the Taos Masters. After tragedy strikes, he goes off the rails, divorces his wife, and leaves Santa Fe for Paonia, a small town in southwest Colorado. He hoped for peace and healing, but instead he found trouble.
Heller's follow-up to his debut, The Dog Stars, is unexpected. He doesn't allow himself to become pigeon holed by writing another post apocalyptic novel, but instead turns to contemporary fiction, though his Southwestern setting remains much the same. As much as I loved his first offering, I found this one even better. He treats the high mountain deserts of Colorado and New Mexico like art. It is impossible not to fall in love with the piñons and creek beds that populate his novel, as much a part of the story as any character. They create such a longing for home that cannot simply be written off as my own homesickness for this exact patch of ground.

This story however is more than its setting it is also a moving portrayal of grief and anger so tightly bound that they cannot be separated. Jim Stegner is a compelling character. You feel his pain, you feel pity for this man, and at the same time you feel anger at him for continuing to make one dumb mistake after another. He is raw and real in a way few characters ever are. The rest of the characters fade into the background, dimmed in the harsh light of the painter, but enhancing the story in the way a supporting cast should.

The Painter was everything I want from a good story. I didn't want to put it down, and when I did it never left my mind. When the story finally ended, it was with a sigh of disappointment that I closed the book. I didn't want it to end. I wait with anticipation for his next offering and wholly recommend this book without reservation.
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on June 29, 2014
IThe Painter by Peter Heller is so many good things it is almost overwhelming.

Simply, it is about an artist, Jim, who lives in rural Colorado. He fishes and paints and sells his work through a gallery in Taos, New Mexico, where he used to live. He is a divorced, former alcoholic, who is mourning his daughter's death, who shot a man in New Mexico, who rescues a horse, and who is a person of interest in a murder investigation.

More complexly, it is a lyrical, thought provoking contemplation of the nature of good and evil and life. It is a glimpse into the mind and emotions of an artist, a man who loves nature and animals and poetry, a man who is, perhaps, bad. Or is it?

Heller's descriptions of what it is like to be, to think, to feel like an artist are wonderful, and they are very close to how artists I know have tried to explain they feel. His descriptions of sex have an ethereal quality I feel is often missing in all too many books, which too often appear to include sexual scenes because it is an expected part of a formula, which demands the same physical details over and over.

The character, Jim, tells his story in first person narrative, that is compelling in how it links nature with thought and experiences. He analyzes himself, his paintings, and other people. But the book is never boring. He explains the meaning of his paintings -- which can change as he thinks about them -- and makes me want to see them all, in addition to reading about them. Jim is a well crafted character, one of those rare ones, who seems real in fact as well as in fiction.

The book is also suspenseful. Jim is in danger in more ways than one. The awareness that danger lingers and pursues him may merely be a suggestion sometimes, but it is always there.

Perhaps the greatest success of the book it that it makes the read think and feel about many things. One of these things has to do with people, and whether someone might do bad things, but remain a good person. Or is it that simple?

I highly, absolutely, positively recommend this book.
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on October 27, 2015
I became a fan of Peter Heller's after reading his first book, The Dog Stars; which I loved-as well as this one. Mr. Heller has a beautiful way with words. He uses lots of description, and some extraordinarily lengthy sentences at times, but it never feels like it's weighing the story down and I never feel the urge to skim through it. He vividly brings his vision to life in my mind. His writing is cohesive and flows easily. The Painter is a story about a man, Jim Stegner. A twice divorced artist and avid fisherman, trying to find his footing after a violent barroom altercation and the subsequent death of his teenage daughter. The story is paced out so you get bits and pieces of his background in between his present situation. You don't find out how exactly his daughter died until approximately the middle of the book. Sometimes this method of reveal can feel disjointed or confusing, but that's not the case here. The narrator basically has a lot of demons he hasn't conquered and while driving down the road one day comes across a man beating a horse. This incident sparks something in him, and if his past tribulations are the backbone of the story, the events that follow make up the flesh. The story follows him from Colorodo to New Mexico as the consequences of his actions and his grief for his daughter come full circle. I highly recommend this book. My ONLY gripe is I wish I could see the paintings Mr. Heller so beautifully describes of the narrator's.
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on May 9, 2014
I loved this book. Loved it. So different from Dog Stars, which is one of my all time favorite books ever. This book takes us deeper and deeper inside the gentle and very scarred heart of a man with little understanding of himself. Though he loves hard and is not without relationships, our lead character has very little insight into his own function and drives. He has suffered the worst of losses and is filled to overflowing with the pain of them, yet is blind to his violent drives fueled by the need to release that pain. He feels peace when fishing. He is able to forget and lose awareness of pain-filled time when making his art. He is so used to hurting all the time that he becomes somewhat unaware of how his actions are driven by the need to relieve himself of his own agony. We accompany him on his path to reclaiming his self from that place of constant heartbreak. It's a hard book. I think Mr. Heller captured this character's traumatized spirit extremely well. I loved this story, but it's not an easy one.
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on February 22, 2016
At the beginning it was a bit of a turn off for me because of the sexual content, but the story developed quickly after that and the narrator established himself firmly in the reader's mind. The protagonist/antagonist from my point of view was not very likable, but he was intriguing and captured my attention through good plot development and surprising twists and turns. Since I am a Colorado native and know the areas pretty well he was describing, there was some inconsistencies in the geography in terms of travel, but I was able to ignore that in light of his storytelling abilities. It kept my interest right up to the end. A pretty good read.
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on February 5, 2017
This is a fantastic novel. If you are familiar with Heller and like his writing, you should love this book. There's a nice balance of character development and action/suspense. He transported me to a place and atmosphere that was palpable.
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on March 17, 2015
Jim Stegner is an artist with an anger management problem. He’s already served time for shooting a man who threatened his daughter, and now he has a beef with a man who brutalizes a horse. Stegner is a guy who leaves mayhem in his wake, especially when he’s trying to make the world a better place by eliminating a few bad guys. As artists go, he’s fairly well-known, but there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and the public starts to really take notice when Stegner gains a reputation as somewhat of an outlaw. Stegner is appalled by his own behavior and the inflationary impact it has on his work. His agent, on the other hand, is well aware of Stegner’s volatile nature and certainly doesn’t encourage Stegner’s altercations, but he’s not going to waste an opportunity to capitalize on Stegner’s notoriety. A former alcoholic, Stegner winds down by painting, obviously, and by fly fishing, and the author devotes a fairly substantial number of words to describing the sport and the beautiful western streams and rivers that Stegner favors. I found myself skimming these sections so that I could find out what boneheaded or brilliant move our vigilante would make in his efforts to stay alive, stay sober, and stay one step ahead of the law by covering his tracks. As for his art, I have to say that painting birds on the tops of the heads of two little girls in a commissioned portrait seems outlandish, but then such whimsy is partly what propels Stegner into a hot commodity. His work, however, becomes darker as he grapples with guilt and indecision over whether he should turn himself in to the local authorities. Lastly, I love that Heller’s outdoorsman protagonist shares a last name with the conservationist and artist (writer, actually) Wallace Stegner, whose Pultizer-Prize winning novel Angle of Repose is one of my favorites.
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on May 17, 2014
I loved Peter Heller's first novel, The Dog Stars, so very much, I couldn't wait for The Painter. I pre-ordered it as soon as I heard about it. I wanted it so much that I was sure to be let down, because this couldn't be as good as The Dog Stars, which really had to be a fluke. Too good to believe, much less repeat. But - this book is as good, as beautiful, as mesmerizing, and I was as unable to put it down. And now, I am as bereft, having read The Painter, because I can never read it again for the first time. A wonderful book, a wonderful writer, I intend to buy everything this man ever writes. Dear Peter Heller, please write another.
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on March 26, 2015
The Painter is entertaining enough but has no real literary substance. The descriptions of fly fishing in, and the geography in general of, southwest Colorado and northeast New Mexico are as enticing as any travelogue but there the magic ends. The protagonist goes around behaving violently towards various other men, feeling badly about it immediately afterwards, then gets over it fairly quickly and goes along his merry way. At one point, he inadvertently puts some children's lives in danger but this is like water off a duck's back to him.

I watched an interview of the author in which he explained the protagonist is based on an actual artist well known in the southwestern U.S. I don't know if this person is living or dead but I can't imagine he would be flattered by having his character co-opted here.
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