Wednesday, March 18, 2015

THE PAINTER by Peter Heller

Jim Stegner is an artist with an anger management problem.  He’s already served time for shooting a man who threatened his daughter, and now he has a beef with a man who brutalizes a horse.  Stegner is a guy who leaves mayhem in his wake, especially when he’s trying to make the world a better place by eliminating a few bad guys.  As artists go, he’s fairly well-known, but there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and the public starts to really take notice when Stegner gains a reputation as somewhat of an outlaw. Stegner is appalled by his own behavior and the inflationary impact it has on his work.  His agent, on the other hand, is well aware of Stegner’s volatile nature and certainly doesn’t encourage Stegner’s altercations, but he’s not going to waste an opportunity to capitalize on Stegner’s notoriety.  A former alcoholic, Stegner winds down by painting, obviously, and by fly fishing, and the author devotes a fairly substantial number of words to describing the sport and the beautiful western streams and rivers that Stegner favors.  I found myself skimming these sections so that I could find out what boneheaded or brilliant move our vigilante would make in his efforts to stay alive, stay sober, and stay one step ahead of the law by covering his tracks.  As for his art, I have to say that painting birds on the tops of the heads of two little girls in a commissioned portrait seems outlandish, but then such whimsy is partly what propels Stegner into a hot commodity.  His work, however, becomes darker as he grapples with guilt and indecision over whether he should turn himself in to the local authorities.  Lastly, I love that Heller’s outdoorsman protagonist shares a last name with the conservationist and artist (writer, actually) Wallace Stegner, whose Pultizer-Prize winning novel Angle of Repose is one of my favorites.


Kris said...

another nice review. I'm tempted by this novel now. And yeah, the last name is a treat given how great Angle of Repose is.

PattisPages said...

Thanks, Kris. I liked his earlier novel THE DOG STARS (also on this blog) even better than this one.