Douglas Lord of the Library Journal reviewed The Ploughmen recently, which he called “startingly beautiful,” and concluded by giving his highest recommendation for Zupan’s debut novel. Check out the full review below:
This is a startlingly beautiful debut novel from a talented craftsman. It is the story of one relationship, the deep kinship felt between two antipodal, yet completely simpatico men: one a murderer, the other his jailer. John Gload, 77, is a one-time farmer who uses his analytical, methodical, and workmanlike brutality for contract killing. Though a wise soul, Val Millimaki is a younger, humble sheriff’s deputy with a tense marriage who has trouble connecting with people, especially his cloddish co-workers. The story, constructed sturdily and carefully from the ground up, shows the two men finding an unlikely, uneasy mutuality from their individual darknesses. The relationship slides between kinship, mentor/pupil, father/son, even “priest and confessor, the roles unfixed and seeming to change by the minute.” Both have moments of deep humanity. When Val briefly looks at life through the eyes of his mother, a suicide, he sees the “barely discernible camber of earth under a sky that had yielded little but heartbreak.” And Gload, even in the act of murder, observes his victim’s “eyes half closed as if on the verge of mere gratified sleep or rapture.” Additionally, Zupan’s descriptions of the Montana landscape are a marvel; keen observations combined with a deep intimacy of the landscape. “Sandstone scarps filigreed with fossil fish and shells projected atop the cotbanks like the pulpits of sailing ships and everywhere startling columns of the ancient stone wind-carved and pocked like sculpture from a fever dream.” The tone recalls both Ace Atkins’s western work (e.g., The Broken Places) and the languor of Ray Bradbury. VERDICT Spare and emotionally devastating, this cannot be recommended highly enough.