Both men were orphans. Their fathers died when they were young. Their mothers left them. They grew up on struggling farms in northern Montana. But John Gload became an unrepentant killer and Valentine Millimaki became a sheriff’s deputy. Kim Zupan puts these two men in the same jail, where they bond over their insomnia in The Ploughmen.
Since he’s been put on the night shift, Millimaki can’t sleep. He and his wife have been ships in the night and barely see each other. During the days, when he can’t sleep, Millimaki goes looking for missing people. At night, he listens to Gload talk about the people he’s killed and how he came to be the way he is. The similarities pile up between the two. As The Ploughmen rolls on, Millimaki’s marriage falls apart and his colleagues try to coerce Gload into telling them where all the bodies are buried.
There isn’t a lot of plot in The Ploughmen. Most of the time, it’s just Gload and Millimaki talking or Millimaki brooding somewhere in the Montanan wilderness. The language Zupan uses is sober and poetic. Scenes jump from one to another (though that might have been the way my galley was formatted). I’m not sure what it is about the American plains that draws poetry out of people, but the sky and the grass and the emptiness leave a lot of room for thinking.
The Ploughmen is also about loneliness and being alone. Some characters have the knack for being alone. Others emphatically cannot. Millimaki’s wife cannot bear the loneliness of their remote cabin. Everything frightens or annoys her, until she moves back into town. Millimaki can’t understand the problem. It’s nothing to him to wander for miles across the landscape with his dog. He misses her, of course, but he feels that it’s his duty to find the missing people. One day, he hopes that he will be able to find someone in time to save them.
Zupan’s tale is not a happy one. There’s too much violence and emotional hurt for that. But The Ploughmen also features the strange species of friendship that grows between Gload and Millimaki. We spend more time in Millimaki’s head than in Gload’s, so we don’t learn much about why he likes the deputy so much. I guess it’s just that Millimaki is kind to him where everyone else treats him with contempt and threatens the hardened man at every turn. A little kindness goes a long way in the harsh Montana countryside.
I received a free copy of this ebook from Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.