Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Painter by Peter Heller

I was a big fan of Peter Heller's first novel, The Dog Stars. Heller, who has written nonfiction for National Geographic, added poetic language and first rate nature writing to a story about survival and human connection in a post-apocalyptic world. Thus, I had high expectations going into reading Heller's new novel, The Painter.  I wasn't disappointed.

The Painter contains many of the elements found in The Dog Stars; Heller's outstanding grasp of the natural world distinguishes him from many of the other literary fiction writers out there, and his characters are sharp. Once again his main character is a man haunted by the past. However, this new novel doesn't delve into the end of the world and it reads like a literary thriller. The Painter tells the story of Jim Stegner, a man with a violent past (he killed a man) who channels his darkness into his art. He's gained some prestige in painting the Southwest and lives a quiet life of painting and fly-fishing, where Heller's great nature writing again sparkles. When Jim witnesses an act of brutality, though, he's again trapped in a world of violence and retribution.
Peter Heller

Here's the story of a moral man fighting against his own darkness and that of the world around him. In that sense, a man vs nature and man vs man sense, The Painter feels like an old school novel of simply great storytelling that revolves around classic themes. I really like this approach. I sometimes get tired by tongue-in-cheek writing and cleverness and authorial irony. Peter Heller doesn't need to rely on these tricks. Here's a novel with a strong character, a compelling plot, and beautiful writing. What more do you need?

1 comment:

  1. The ending of the novel is a little unsettling, and comes across a bit unresolved--but maybe that's because it didn't end as I expected, and maybe that's a good thing. A novel that grapples such important themes as loss, grief, justice, and redemption probably isn't going to have a pat answer or predictable ending. What I do know is that Heller is a remarkable novelist with a promising future. I recommend this novel highly.