The Painter by Peter Heller

The Painter by Peter HellerThe Painter by Peter Heller
Published by Knopf on May 6, 2014
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 364
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.
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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.


Well-known painter Jim Stegner has a checkered past and is prone to violence. Having lost his marriage and his daughter, Jim escapes to rural Colorado to paint, fish, and deal with his grief. When his inner demons surface once again, Jim flees, struggling to understand and overcome his true nature while being chased by those wanting revenge.

Peter Heller has created a heart-wrenching portrait of grief. Watching Jim work through that grief was compelling, sometimes overwhelming. There is a good bit of confusion in this novel: it’s hard to get a straight answer about what happened, about what exactly is going on, especially since Jim seems to lose chunks of time. It creates a good deal of suspense.

Yet…I still found myself bored with large portions of the narrative. I’m normally a fan of slower-paced, character-driven novels, but I wasn’t able to fully relax and enjoy that aspect here. Once the story started to fill with suspense, I needed the pace to pick up. Instead, there were times when it felt like it stalled out.

I find myself in the same state of mind after reading The Painter as I was with Heller’s previous novel, The Dog Stars: I enjoyed it well enough, but wasn’t left with strong feelings either way.