The Painter by Peter Heller, review by Sarah Bagby
Meet Jim Stegner, mid forties, a fly-fisherman, painter, and killer. He is the masculine protagonist in Peter Heller’s new novel entitled The Painter.
The opening line is masterful and captures our attention: 45 year old Jim reflects “I never imagined I would kill a man.” From then on, Heller holds us until the very last sentence.
On his way to fish one afternoon, Heller kills a man for beating a horse. Living low with an air-tight alibi from his lover and model, Sophie he bursts forth with a new body of work for his Santa Fe gallerist to sell. Stegner’s psychological tension as he is questioned and stalked by revenge seekers and detectives is the undercurrent that flows through Heller’s beautiful prose.
Tormented by his guilt over not preventing his daughter’s death, Heller cannot out-fish or out-paint the memories of their last exchange. Heller’s tumultuous state- of- mind can range from quiet contentment as he casts along a secluded mountain stream to violent deadly outbursts at perceived injustice.
Heller, like Stegner, is a man’s man, as reflected in his rock solid prose. Read this novel for the plot and appreciate it for poetic insights into the human condition; either way, you’ll be glad you did.