I think that it was in a dream sometime lately that someone said to me–no wow. It wasn’t in a dream, it was real, people are too kind–they told me that my writing sounded like me talking.
That was the first thing I loved about this book. It sounded like the inside of the character’s brain. It was never ever Peter Heller talking or writing, it was Jim Stegner, like a really good acting performance. You know, when you’re watching a play and for whatever strange reason remember that it isn’t reality, and that the body who is moving and talking in front of your eyes has insecurites and things that they’re proud of and almond milk in their coffee every morning. That’s what reading this book felt like, a complete escape from the physical everyday world and into this painter’s world, this painter and killer and lover and father and feeler. That’s called good writing, something I don’t think I will ever be able to achieve. Maybe I can make you hear my voice, but someone elses? That’s a level of art that I can revel in awe and hopelessness.
The second thing that I loved about the book was that it managed to say in words what I feel about painting:
“What I mean is: you get this pressure, this internal pressure that builds like a swelling lake and you paint. It’s all you want to do, all you know how to do. And if you focus in the right way, a way you had to learn, you let yourself go. You lose yourself and just about vanish and the painting asserts and fills and flows over the dam and down into the streambed of everything you have ever experienced and thought, and carries you both on a current that takes you into a country that neither of you have ever seen. Where you have never been.”
A third thing was Heller/Stegner’s complete careless respect for symbols and themes, how he was so good at them that he could jsut blatantly incorporate them into the art of the painter, into the story, and into the real life of the painter. Like, he just wasn’t even trying, it just happened, masterfully, easily, naturally. Some of them he created, like the birds~chickens, buzzards, songbirds, painted birds. And then just to almost show off a little further, he threw in some traditional imagery–the three birds. The creek flowing past, the painter submerged or resisting, or taking what he can from the stream~sometimes letting what he took squirm back into the current.
I also loved the way that while taking me completely away from my reality it made me feel my physical reality in a factual, joyful way. That the moment I had sitting by my window and reading was only made more content-ful by the sip of cold water and the way my jeans fell on my legs just right.
Read it. Read the book. Do it. Read it.
The Painter by Peter Heller.