Peter Heller’s The Painter — just, wow

I know it’s sexist to categorize books as either masculine or feminine, but I do it anyway. Don’t’ get me wrong, I read both. Dennis Lehane is one of my favorite writers and his dark, gritty, violent books definitely fall in my definition of masculine. Toni Morrison, on the other hand, with her magic and poetry and search for identity, belong in my (again, sexist) definition of literature.

cover image via Goodreads

cover image via Goodreads

What is rare is to find an author who so fully embodies both sides of the spectrum, but that’s the only way I can think to describe Peter Heller and his current book, The Painter.

My immediate reaction after turning the final page was simply, Wow.

The story-line is surprisingly violent (like in a Clint Eastwood way), but the language of the novel is thoughtful and thought-provoking, making the book’s appeal both powerful and gentle. The protagonist, Jim Stegner, is not easy to like. He’s an alcoholic artists with a troubled past and a violent temper, searching for peace and beauty.

“I almost cannot contain — the rage and the tenderness together like boiling weather front.”

Heller writes him so vividly that he does almost seem to boil on the page. His actions are despicable, but his conscience (soul?) runs deep with guilt which comes out through his artwork. Art, particularly Jim’s painting his own conscience, plays a huge role in this story. Again, Heller finds a brilliant way of combining almost poetic language with the gritty realities of what it means to be a working artist.

“The reason people are so moved by art and why artists tend to take it all so seriously is that if they are real and true they come to the painting with everything they know and feel and live, and all the things they don’t know, and some of the things they hope, and they are honest about them all and put them on the canvas. What can be more serious?”

This is my first experience reading Heller and I now must move The Dog Stars up to the top of my To-Read shelf. I think I’m about to become a superfan.

“We can proceed in our lives just as easily from love to love as from loss to loss. A good thing to remember in the middle of the night when you’re not sure how you will get through the next three breaths.”

10 thoughts on “Peter Heller’s The Painter — just, wow

  1. Your description of this book is incredible and now I really want to read it. As for sexist interpretations of literature – we all do it. My surprise is always when a male writer is able to write such realistic female characters or vice versa which is the most ridiculous thing ever but there you are.


  2. I really, really loved The Dog Stars — just brilliantly written. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be interested in The Painter, but I think you’ve convinced me!


  3. Really interesting that you categorize some books as being feminine or masculine, made be really stop and think. I do agree with you as I could think of a myriad of examples (ex. Confessions of a Shopaholic!) but then there are also writers like Atwood that maybe are more in the middle? I would even argue the Goldfinch.

    Really great perspective though, and got me thinking!


    • Oh yes. Many great writers fall in the middle. Atwood is a great example. Sedaris and Colum McCann also come to mind. For some reason, it just really came through with this title.


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