Sunday, May 25, 2014

Book Review: "The Painter" by Peter Heller

Jim Stegner is an artist of some renown. Possessing exceptional talent, when inspiration hits he can get lost in his paintings, and create something memorable, something beautiful fairly quickly. Tired of the Santa Fe art scene, and of having to play the game, he finds solace in rural Colorado, where he finds plenty of inspiration for his art, and plenty of opportunity to pursue his other favorite pastime, fishing.

However successful he is, Jim's life has not been without turmoil. He once shot a man in a bar, and spent some time in prison. His first marriage collapsed under the weight of mutual alcoholism and recriminations, and ultimately, in the wake of the murder of his beloved daughter, Alce. Another marriage came and went quickly. But now, he's finally been able to stay sober and take control of his life, and keep his demons at bay as much as he can.

"Sometimes I think that's all you need. A good man with a fishing tip, a wave. A woman once in a while. Some work to do that might mean something. A truck that runs...It's not much, but plenty when you don't have any of it."

One day on his way to fish in a secluded stream, he comes upon a man cruelly beating a small horse. His impulses take over, and he acts quickly to save the horse. Then later, still reeling from this encounter, he acts impulsively again, which puts him in the path of a ruthless family bent on revenge. Jim is determined to keep those he cares about away from the maelstrom of violence, but after fleeing to Santa Fe, he realizes this is easier said than done, and at times tries to figure out whether he should just stop fighting back and allow the violence to claim him.

This is a vivid, beautifully written, brutal book. Peter Heller created some fantastically complex characters, particularly Jim, and his storytelling ability was really mesmerizing. The Painter is such a compelling book because it so deftly tells the story of a man so broken by loss but so driven by his demons, one who cannot decide whether to embrace his talents or give into the destructive impulses that are trying to claim him.

Heller's language is memorable, poetic, and so evocative. This isn't an easy book to read because of the pain Jim is in, but it is a book you'll keep thinking about long after you've completed it.

1 comment:

  1. "The Painter" is a novel that presents the reader with moral and ethical questions an individual should never have to face. This would be a fine book for book clubs and discussion groups; I will be recommending it to my neighborhood book club.