Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"I find it difficult to put into words my feelings about this book, something that will amuse those who know me. It is filled with ugliness, unhappy feelings, downright evil, bleak outlooks and it is radiantly beautiful." ~Eric B.
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.

Eric B. says:
"I find it difficult to put into words my feelings about this book, something that will amuse those who know me. It is filled with ugliness, unhappy feelings, downright evil, bleak outlooks and it is radiantly beautiful. First, because the writing is unique, at least in my experience, and so evocative that the unusual phrasing and seldom-used vocabulary propel it into a realm above and beyond crime fiction, a genre that I fear will become its lodging place. And it is also the story of two men, both flawed, wounded and wounding who become friends in the most unlikely way, as jailer and serial killer.

It would be easy to say that these two should never have forged a bond, but the sense of it is human, not logical. Valentine Millimaki, deputy sheriff and John Gload, ruthless and brutally efficient psychopathic killer, find common ground at first in their roots as farm boys. While that theme persists throughout it recedes and advances, weaving a minor theme into the narrative. What is evident in their friendship is a simple humanity that defies description: Gload is, after all, a conscienseless (although not heartless) killer and Val Millimaki is a simple young police officer working in one of the most daunting of environments: the plains of Montana, a graveyard-shift-jailer assignment and the scorn of a beloved but disaffected young wife.

Val is the night officer in the Copper County jail who is given the unenviable task of engaging the loathsome Gload in a course of conversation calculated to unearth secrets of his crimes and the whereabouts of the evidence thereto (buried bodies) but something else entirely emerges. The seventy-seven-year-old Gload finds in Val an honest man, one who shares common experiences of youth that link them. As Val’s marriage dissolves, the surprisingly tender nature of Gload’s domestic relations is revealed as the flip side of a serial killer: evenings spent sitting in the garden looking at his orchard and cooking dinner for his “wife” of many years, the affection for flowers, growing fruit and the placid landscape of his prairie home. It is one of the magical things about this book that strikes me most: how we begin to understand and even sympathize with this man who is clearly the devil’s instrument.

I won’t say more about it lest I ruin the experience, but suffice it to say that amid the boredom, the bullying, the depravity and the downright brutal violence of this tale you will find a bloom of great beauty.

Lastly, I want to emphasize the skill, the artistry, the imagination displayed by the author. I have not recently and seldom otherwise read anything that impressed me so much with the facility of its writing. Unique phrasing, dictionary-searching vocabulary, and emotional engagement of the reader (in this case, a good thing). I will cite other authors who have affected me in similar ways, although the styles vary wildly: still; William Trevor, Sebastian Barry, Rick Collignon, Cormac McCarthy and Mark Sprague. There are books that sing off the page: this is a sad song, filled with grief, but with great beauty in its sadness."

No comments: