I received this book free from Library Thing in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Ploughmen: A Novel by Kim Zupan
Published by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) on September 30th 2014
Source: Library Thing
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A young sheriff and a hardened killer form an uneasy and complicated bond in this mesmerizing first novel set on the plains of Montana.
Steeped in a lonesome Montana landscape as unyielding and raw as it is beautiful, Kim Zupan's The Ploughmen is a new classic in the literature of the American West.
At the center of this searing, fever dream of a novel are two men—a killer awaiting trial, and a troubled young deputy—sitting across from each other in the dark, talking through the bars of a county jail cell: John Gload, so brutally adept at his craft that only now, at the age of 77, has he faced the prospect of long-term incarceration and Valentine Millimaki, low man in the Copper County sheriff’s department, who draws the overnight shift after Gload’s arrest. With a disintegrating marriage further collapsing under the strain of his night duty, Millimaki finds himself seeking counsel from a man whose troubled past shares something essential with his own. Their uneasy friendship takes a startling turn with a brazen act of violence that yokes together two haunted souls by the secrets they share, and by the rugged country that keeps them.
”One thing I always did, Val, was to live my life. It wasn’t a particularly interesting life but it was on my terms. Now in here I’m just living it out. […] Now it’s just waiting. It’s only a life technically because you’re breathing in and out. Putting in the time until you clock out.”
The Ploughmen is a meandering tale that switches point of view between two men: John Gload, a 77 year old that has spent his life as a contract killer but is inevitably caught and his jailer, Valentine Millimaki who is a quiet and introspective man with a painful past and difficult personal issues he’s currently dealing with between him and his wife. These two men strike up a surprisingly quick bond between one another during Millimaki’s graveyard shifts at the jail, reminiscing on their lives, connecting in twilight over their shared bouts of insomnia.
’Then he corrected himself, said no, that’s not quite exactly right, it wasn’t tricking himself but tricking the insomnia, which he imagined as a palpable thing, a kind of shade or haunt that bent over him in his repose, passing rattling hand bones in the air above him to ward off the visitation of sweet slumber.’
There is violence but little action, mostly reflection, between the pages of this small yet potent novel. The Ploughmen is a somber story about life and hardships and learning to simply survive them. It’s written in such a way without a clear sequence of events, which I attributed to Millimaki’s continued sleepless days and nights, but doesn’t leave the reader feeling groggy but instead with that dreamy weightless feel.
’Perhaps she’d stood gazing uncomprehendingly at the emerging stars, in their milky light superimposing the enormous order wheeling overhead onto the map that seemed to hold her life in its obtuse loops and lines.’
Even if the story is not one you would typically read, the skillful writing style that Zupan possesses makes it completely worthwhile just for the experience alone. Stark yet completely stunning, the incredibly descriptive passages tell a story all on their own. The Ploughmen is an incredibly impressive debut and I can only hope that it’s not the last we’ve seen of this talented author.