When Valentine Millimaki, a troubled young sheriff’s deputy, begins spending long hours at the county jail talking from opposite sides of prison bars with a career killer, he doesn’t expect to see a reflection of himself in the murderer’s own complicated past. At 77, John Gload has spent a lifetime working as a gun-for-hire, and is so adept at his craft that he is only now facing the prospect of a prison sentence. Millimaki is an underling in the Copper County sheriff’s department, whose marriage was splintering even before he drew the night shift. The unlikely pair develop a friendship that takes an unexpected turn as an act of violence leaves the two tied together by the secrets they share and the rugged country they love.
It would be too simple to say The Ploughmen centers on the idea of good and evil; it is not so black and white as that. The story is perpetually gray, with pockets of light and dark, not just in its morality but in its scenery. Despite their obvious differences, Millimaki and Gload share a kind of nostalgia for a past Montana, and their futures are connected by their choices.
Zupan is a native Montanan who for 25 years made a living as a carpenter while pursuing his writing. In The Ploughmen, he uses cadence and rich language to pull readers through the narrative, and despite a tendency toward long sentences, he writes with a kind of straightforwardness reminiscent of Kerouac. This memorable debut is at times strikingly beautiful, while at others quite bleak, but it is always poignant.