Print Review: The Ploughmen

The Ploughmen

The Ploughmen
By Kim Zupan
Henry Holt and Company, LLC
Release Date: September 30, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9951-5

I made a mistake. When I first received this book, I thought it was a Western based on the premise originally put forth by Elmore Leonard’s “3:10 to Yuma” – a peculiar, dynamic relationship between a prisoner and the deputy assigned to guard him. I gave myself four days to read, think about and review this book, not realizing that I had badly misjudged the book from the start. The 256 pages of the novel need to be savored carefully over time, and any inclination to project ideas of black- and white-hatted cowboys into the story needs to be put aside.

The Ploughmen is a work of literary-fiction set in Montana that requires due diligence and undistracted contemplation. Yes, it does feature “a peculiar, dynamic relationship between a prisoner and the deputy assigned to guard him;” but the pages are filled with descriptive prose, a slow rhythmic pace punctuated infrequently by stark, brutal acts, and characters of concretized mindsets. Much of the book is devoted to portraying the landscape: clouds (cirrus clouds, cumulus clouds, gravid clouds, immane clouds…) and birds. The landscape in its graphic harshness wields its presence in the narrative like a weapon unto itself. The careful tempering of the story into measured passages forces the reader to slow down and take in the seemingly-portentous lines and their possible implications. It is against this landscape that the characters find themselves trapped as players upon a stage from which there is no exit. Val Millimaki is the deputy who cannot adapt to change. He holes himself up in his cabin with his memories as his wife escapes and his marriage crumbles. Gload, on the other hand, is the older “plough man” who realizes that nothing really changes once you have the perspective born of life experience. Both men steadfastly hold on to their respective core philosophies of idealism and nihilism at great personal cost, and by adhering to their personal convictions, ultimately both reap what they have sown.

Some of the language is archaic which may speak of a certain intellectual pretentiousness on the part of the author; but the the overall sense of craftsmanship, of planing and shaping the story to reveal the grain and beauty of both the the land and the men, is undeniable.

OTHER: I received an Advanced Reader’s Edition of The Ploughmen (by Kim Zupan) through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program on September 7, 2014. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.