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The Painter by Peter Heller (Vintage Books, 2015)

 

  1. The Colorado and New Mexico landscapes figure prominently in “The Painter.” How has the author conveyed the sense of setting?
     
  2. Jim is a keen observer and appreciator of nature. What does environment mean for Jim and his art? How does he notice nature and how does he notice the people in his life? Do they differ?
     
  3. Many chapters of “The Painter” begin with the names and dimensions of Jim’s paintings, and Jim frequently describes his painting process. How does the subject of each of Jim’s paintings paintings-in-process relate to the plot and his current state of mind? Did they influence the way you read each chapter?
     
  4. Jim takes some time to process the death of his daughter Alce and his last conversation with her. How does Jim confront her death and his role as a father?
     
  5. How does Jim’s relationship with Alce, with her memory and her ghost, provide him guidance? How do you see her role and interact with her as a character?
     
  6. In what ways does Jim conform to the classic archetype of masculinity? In what ways does he challenge it?
     
  7. Alce, Sofia, Irmina, Christine, Celia, Julia—what roles do women play in this narrative?
     
  8. The perception of artists as loners, outsiders, rogues, and truth tellers is a common concept in American culture. By placing the reader in Jim’s lived experience, how does “The Painter” confirm and contradict these classic tropes?
     
  9. The “Oxford English Dictionary” defines “hero” as “the central character or protagonist … in a story … whom the reader or audience is intended to support or admire.” In what ways does Jim embody the qualities of a hero, or of an antihero?
     
  10. How does “The Painter” treat desire, both sexual and artistic?
     
  11. Is there justice in this book? For whom? How did justice, or lack thereof, make you feel?
     
  12. In what ways is this literary novel a crossover with a mystery or crime novel?
     
  13. Some have said this is a book of contrasts: the contrast between the beauty of art and violence, the contrast between a peaceful setting and vigilantism. How did this balance work for you as a reader? What other contrasting themes were revealed?
     
  14. Have you read “The Dog Stars,” Peter Heller's first novel? If yes, what similarities did you find in terms of writing style, themes, and story? What differences did you observe?
     

 

 

Seattle Reads
2015 Seattle Reads: 'The Painter' by Peter Heller
Washington Center for the Book at The Seattle Public Library