book reviews, books, Fiction, Novels, Outdoor Literature, Peter Heller, Reading Suggestions, Southwest Fiction, Sportsmen Literature, Summer Reading, The Dog Stars, The Painter, U.S. Fiction, U.S. Literature, Western Fiction
Let me get it out of the way. I really liked Peter Heller’s “The Dog Stars” which was a best seller. “The Painter”, his new novel, is fine as a summer escape read. It is fast paced and has a strong ending. Mr. Heller is clearly an accomplished writer of outdoor sportsman journalism. Hunting, guns, fishing, particularly in the West and Southwest U.S., are strong elements in these two novels. Both novels share similar plot lines: principal character in each is a soulful loner whose kid has died and must defend himself against those trying to murder him. In “The Dog Stars” the wife is also dead. It occurs in post-apocalyptic U.S. where there is no trust or love. It is better than the usual movie genre tracking the same field. The principal character mourns his dead family and tries to establish a love relationship beyond a stray dog, all while reluctantly killing other human beings to survive. “The Painter” is a modern day tale set in Santa Fe and its surrounding environs. Jim Stegner is a artist of locale reknown; a divorcee and ex-con who cherishes his privacy. He too finds love all while killing a bunch of poachers who are seeking to do the same to him out of revenge. He is an avid fly fisherman and the novel wades upstream with him. Along the way Mr. Heller takes some digs at the media and the world of selling art.
Not all works are great literature and I doubt the author intends this to be. Plot lines are repeated throughout fiction. Nonetheless, for me “The Painter” was a formulaic production. I had the feeling of a “one hit wonder”, which given my feeling for “The Dog Stars” I hoped would not be the case. This is commercial writing. While I appreciate spacing as it makes a book more readable for me, this novel takes it to the extreme. An example of this from some dialogue:
“Where’s your daughter now?”
I put down the ugly Mug.
“She was murdered”
Perhaps he was contracted to write a certain amount of published pages. At the risk of being snarky, the use of the article “The” has spawned day time TV talk shows: “The Talk”; “The View”; etc. Titling novels beginning with this article is common. Current social comfort with this article likely did factor into the publisher’s titling of the novels, but given the spacing I began to wonder.
I know I am being hyper-critical. It is because I expected and hoped for more. I wanted Mr. Heller to take risks outside his comfort zone; to show range. Like art, writing is a business. Most writers don’t have Mr. Heller’s opportunity to sell mass market, so I can’t fault him for trying to write another block-buster. Hopefully, his next work, will be an “indie” book that will demonstrate more range.