2 / 5
"I never imagined I would shoot a man. Or be a father. Or live so far from the sea."
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.
Ugh. This just felt like way too much of a “bro” novel to me. Perhaps it resonates with male readers, but I just could not connect in any way to the protagonist. He was this dude (it actually made me feel a bit as if his attitude was modeled after The Dude) who lives to paint and fish. Which is fine with me - I absolutely don’t have to identify with a character’s interests in order to like them! But Jim just was so … smug, and SO full of himself. He thought EVERY SINGLE WOMAN he encountered wanted to jump his bones. Every. One. It was annoying and offensive. I would have liked to have seen him brought down a peg by a woman even just once in this book, but they instead just compliment him and have sex with him, and generally support him in every way. The women in this book are flat characters, with absolutely no real value other than to play the role of backup singer to Jim. (There’s no way this would pass the Bechdel Test!)
I also realize I am not supposed to base my dislike of a book solely on my dislike of a character - but believe me, I am not. This novel felt as if it never moved. And the premise - Jim just murdering this guy because he saw him mistreat a horse this one time?! It felt like such a stretch. (Even for me, a true blue animal lover!) Granted, the author did a bit of explaining why he felt so protective of the filly later in the book, but I could have used that explanation earlier, because I spent most of the book disbelieving Jim’s motivation. Nothing seemed right about this book, or based in reality.
And the ending was SO unbelievable and extremely frustrating. I want to discuss that more, but can’t give away the meat of the book, which I believe is the question of whether Jim gets caught for several illegal acts he committed. I don’t believe there was any other real point to this book then whether this smug asshole could somehow slime his way out of the debt he owes society - whether or not the man he murdered deserved it. (I am a fan of vigilantism, too - and I felt as if the Siminow brothers were certainly slimy - but perhaps I just didn't feel as if Jim, the new guy in town, was the person to make that judgment call.) I didn’t take any life lessons away from this book, that is for sure. And I didn’t even really enjoy myself during a lot of the reading! I kept finding myself drifting, having missed the last few minutes of what I’d read...and then realizing I didn’t care.
My favorite things about this book were the artist’s name - it just seems so fitting - and the scene where he did his study of the twin girls for his commissioned painting. That was the only time I saw Jim as being charming and self-effacing enough to redeem his otherwise awful character.
I added this book to my Audible queue a few years ago because it was getting a lot of hype. I am really uncertain about why it did. I was pretty disappointed.
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