This post may include affiliate links. That means if you click and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Please see Disclosures for more information.
Acclaimed and reclusive artist Jim Stegner spends his days in rural Colorado painting and fly-fishing, mourning the loss of his daughter and his marriage and fighting the violent demons that landed him in prison years ago. On a fishing outing one day, he encounters a man beating a small horse—and his violent tendencies take over. As questions swirl around what happened, Jim retreats to New Mexico, pursued by men looking for revenge.
I was a huge fan of Heller’s The Dog Stars and The River and have been looking forward to reading this one for a long time. While Heller’s trademark evocative nature scenes are present here, and he creates palpable tension (indeed, one of the pursuers in the story is perhaps the most fascinating character, despite being present in only a few scenes), there are a few areas where this falls apart. Notably: the women are all thinly drawn characters, with some of their descriptions so laughable that I almost put the book down early on. Jim is a Hemingway-esque character—tortured, gruff, and self-indulgent. Heller is supremely talented and I’ll continue to read his work, but this one did not work for me.
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.