An Oprah.com "Must-Read" Book
After having shot a man in a Santa Fe bar, the famous artist Jim Stegner served his time and has since struggled to manage the dark impulses that sometimes overtake him. Now he lives a quiet life. . . until the day that he comes across a hunting guide beating a small horse, and a brutal act of new violence rips his quiet life right open. Pursued by men dead set on retribution, Jim is left with no choice but to return to New Mexico and the high-profile life he left behind, where he’ll reckon with past deeds and the dark shadows in his own heart.
Excerpted from The Painter by Peter Heller. Copyright © 2014 by Peter Heller. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
"Breathtakingly good. . . A darkly suspenseful page turner.” —The Richmond Times-Dispatch
"Suspense with literary chops. . . . A brilliant page-turner about an artist with a dark streak." —Reader's Digest
“A moving story about love, celebrity, and the redemptive power of art.” —The New York Times Book Review
"Heart-thumping . . . culminating in an ingeniously played final twist." —The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“A taut tale of anger, revenge and inspiration.” —Dallas Morning News
“Amazing. . . . The contrast between serene nature and extreme action made The Dog Stars such a sensation. Heller uses it again well in The Painter.” —The Miami Herald
“[A] carefully composed story about one man’s downward turning life in the American West. . . . Beautiful near-visionary descriptions.” —The Boston Globe
“[Heller’s] stories are of a classic type: unusual men, the kind we can identify with even if we’re not painters or pilots, thrust into unusual, even tragic situations. Yet at heart, these men are not so different than those we know.” —Santa Fe New Mexican
“The Colorado and New Mexico landscapes evoked in The Painter give the novel a deeper than usual sense of place.” —The New York Times
“More than a little wondrous. . . . [Heller’s] writing is strong and sure, at turns fizzy and sensual, dark and brooding, as filled with love as it is with suspense. This is stuff you'll taste in the back of your throat and feel at your nerves' ends.” —Jackson Free Press
“Jim Stegner may be a mess of a man, but it’s fascinating watching Heller plumb his broken soul.” —Salt Lake City Weekly
“Offers modern twists on the ancient themes of family, duty, revenge, and justice. . . . Heller creates in Stegner a . . . flawed, reflective, and fully realized protagonist.” —Outside Magazine
“The Painter achieves the rare alchemy that makes it simultaneously an intellectually provocative literary novel and a pace-quickening thriller. . . . Compulsively readable . . . Heller gives you everything you could hope for in a great summer novel.” —Nashville Scene
“Whether you read this novel for the plot or appreciate it for poetic insights into the human condition, either way, you’ll be glad you did.” —Wichita Public Radio
“The ghost of [Hemingway] drifts through the novel, in style and subject matter. Heller, however, has his own voice.” —The Columbus Dispatch
“At times suspenseful, at times melancholy, at times spiritual, but always engrossing.” —Library Journal (starred)
“A good book about being bad. . . .The Painter is a dark relative of David James Duncan’s The River. . . . Vividly American. . . . Tremendously ambitious, a well-landed punch on the side of rugged masculinity.” —Washington Independent Review of Books
"[A] masterful novel, in which love (parental and romantic), artistic vision, guilt, grief, and spine-chilling danger propel a suspenseful plot." —Publishers Weekly (starred)
"Heller’s writing is sure-footed and rip-roaring, star-bright and laced with ‘dark yearning,’ coalescing in an ever-escalating, ravishing, grandly engrossing and satisfying tale of righteousness and revenge, artistic fervor and moral ambiguity." —Booklist (starred)
1. The Painter opens several years before the rest of the narrative, in the bar where Jim fired the shot that changed the course of his life. Why do you think the author chose to open on this moment? How did it color your reading experience? Your perception of Jim?
2. An Ocean of Women is a painting born out of a comment made by Irmina. What was your interpretation of this painting? How does it relate to Jim’s treatment of women? Discuss Jim’s relationships with the following characters: Irmina, Sofia, Celia, Cristine. What similarities, if any, exist in how he treats each of these women? What does he admire about the women?
3. Discuss Jim’s relationship with Sofia. Why do you think he hesitates before initiating a physical relationship with her? In what ways is she a foil for his character?
4. The first-person narrative of The Painter allows for a slow reveal of information about Jim and his past. How did this piecemeal revelation add tension to the discussion of Alce’s death? How did it help to create a more sympathetic character?
5. Expressionism, as an artistic movement, is characterized by a preference for subjectivity over realism. Why do you think the author chooses to have Jim paint in this style? How do the concepts of realism versus subjectivity factor into the larger narrative concerns of The Painter?
6. In the beginning of the novel, Bob advises Jim to “be good.” These words are echoed throughout the novel, particularly as Jim wrestles with his self-image in the face of his increasingly violent behavior. Discuss the difference between being good and goodness as described by Jim on page 303. Is Jim a “good” person? What characters, if any, are “good” or display innate “goodness”?
7. On page 74, Jim describes how he “disappear[s]” in awe when viewing certain paintings and certain scenes of nature. Discuss the choice of wording. How do both art and nature provide a means of escapism for Jim throughout the novel?
8. Explore Jim’s relationship with Irmina. How does he rely on her for emotional support throughout the novel? How does she provide guidance for him?
9. Jim is a mostly self-taught painter. Discuss the moment when he realized that he wanted to paint. How did his experiences in childhood and adolescence influence his decision?
10. Trace the events that cause Jim’s violent side to emerge throughout the novel. What, if anything, do these events have in common?
11. Discuss the significance of the painting of the horse and crow. Why do you think the painting has “changed” in his absence after he assaults Celia’s ex-boyfriend? (page 216)
12. Jim paints for himself, but also needs to paint as a means of economic stability. By the end of the novel, do you think he is more accepting of the relationship between creator and consumer, or do the events in Santa Fe harden him toward the interaction?
13. Discuss the “flash flood” as described on pages 289 to 292. Explore its symbolism in the narrative and the development of Jim as a character. Why do you think he signaled Jason? Was it an instinctual or merciful act?
14. Jim’s relationship with his art dealer, Steve, is fraught with tension. How did you view their relationship? Is it one of mutual respect? Of economic necessity? Do you think Steve is intimidated by Jim’s violent past?
15. When Jim goes to Santa Fe, he finds himself in the center of a media maelstrom, carefully constructed by Steve. Discuss Jim’s reaction to becoming a public figure. Why do you think he is most chagrined by the “blogger?”(page 320)
16. How does Jim’s guilt over his actions—both over Alce and his violent behavior—manifest throughout the novel? How does he take to the canvas to mitigate his pain?
17. As you were reading, did you think Jason was going to kill Jim in the last scene of the book? Why do you think he spared his life?
18. Jim inhabits many roles throughout the novel: artist, father, spouse, lover, fisherman, criminal, celebrity. Which role makes him happiest? Which brings about the most conflict in his life?