Saturday, May 23, 2015
Review: "The Ploughmen" by Kim Zupan
Picking up The Ploughmen, the debut novel by Kim Zupan, I had little expectations as to what it was, let alone whether it was good or not. It sounded like a standard western story, with echoes of Cormac McCarthy (bad) and Richard Ford (good), so I approached with an eager trepidation. And for the most part, it delivered quite well. It is far from something that will set the literary world on fire, but I don’t want to ignore its other qualities. It is a quiet, somber story of inescapable pasts set in a landscape as barren as it is unforgiving. But despite the eloquent brutality of the story, it has a certain charm that kept me interested during the slower parts where the story began to drag under the weight of its vagueness. But I can’t ignore Zupan’s talents for prose, which is great even if it is smarter than the characters he is writing about. The story focuses on two men with dark pasts that have shaped them into the men that they are today. John Gload, on the wrong side of 70, has led a life of crime and murder, and has just been arrested for a recent murder. He is watched around the clock, and the low man on the totem pole, Val Millimaki, is stuck with him through the night, a shift that causes his volatile marriage to only get worse. But as Gload and Val start talking, they form a weird kind of bond through shared experiences and mutual respect. This bond gets called into question when Gload’s violent past starts wreaking havoc outside the prison. The true star here is Gload; a fascinating man who is a charming killer, talking fondly about the first time he killed in what is the book’s most chilling scene. The book’s main conflict, involving a young acquaintance of Gload looking to build his reputation, pales in comparison to the one/two show of Gload and Millimaki. Despite a few minor gripes, this book is nothing if but interesting, and worth seeking out.