(Current fiction & past quality fiction)
“The Painter” (Knopf) by Peter Heller has been described by the publisher as an achingly beautiful, wildly suspenseful second novel about an artist trying to outrun his past. At the time of this review, 23 readers waited for the local library system’s five copies of “The Painter.”
What Examiner likes about this novel can best be glimpsed in a couple of paragraphs from the first chapter:
“I love this. I paint myself swimming. A big bearded man, beard going white—I’m forty-five and it’s been salt and pepper since I was thirty. I’m clothed in denim shirt and khakis and boots, ungainly and hulking in this ocean of women, swimming for my life and somehow enjoying it. In my right hand is a fishing rod. It looks like the swimmer is doing too many things at once and this may be his downfall. Or maybe it’s the root of his joy. My palette is a piece of covered fiberboard and I am swiping, touching, shuttling between it and canvas, stowing the small brush with a cocked little finger and reaching for the knife, all in time to her slowly shifting poses. I am a fish myself, making small darting turns against the slower background rhythms and sway of the swell. No thought, not once. Nothing I can remember.
“It is not a fugue state. I’ve heard artists talk about that like it’s some kind of religious thing. For me it’s the same as when I am having a good day fishing. I move up the creek, tie on flies, cast to the far bank, wade, throw into the edge of a pool, feel the hitch the tug of a strike bang!—all in a happy silence of mind. Quiet. The kind of quiet feeling that fills you all night as you ready the meal, steam the asparagus, pour the sparkling water and cut the limes. Fills you into the next day.” – Copyright © Peter Heller
The author speaks to the heart of Examiner, or any other reader. The rest is hearsay; The New York Times’ reviewer said the novel was “awkward.” So is life. So is art. Heller has painted a good, awkward story; highly recommended.
The publisher says a lot of nice things about the author (publishers do that): Peter Heller is the best-selling author of “The Dog Stars.” He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in both fiction and poetry. An award-winning adventure writer and a longtime contributor to NPR, Heller is a contributing editor at Outside magazine, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure, and a regular contributor to Bloomberg Businessweek. He is also the author of several nonfiction books, including “Kook,” “The Whale Warriors,” and “Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River.” He lives in Denver, Colorado.
By the way, that first chapter ends, in part, like this:
“I’ve been called a lot of things, but naïve was never one of them. It must have been because I couldn’t stop painting chickens. Farmyard chickens in every frame: landscapes, adobe houses, coal trains, even nudes. There was a chicken. They make me laugh, their jaunty shape all out of balance—like a boat that was built by a savant boat maker, you know it shouldn’t float but the fucker does. That’s chickens. Naïf.”