Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Trailer Park Tuesday: The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan

Welcome to Trailer Park Tuesday, a showcase of new book trailers and, in a few cases, previews of book-related movies.

(Note: for those of you who are reading--or who are about to read--The Ploughmen, the video contains a spoiler.  You might want to come back to the trailer after you've finished the book.)

From all outward appearances, Kim Zupan is a nice, mild-mannered guy.  That's why, once I got deeper into the pages of his debut novel The Ploughmen, it came as a jolt to find one of the central characters is such a cold-hearted monster.  John Gload, a septuagenarian serial killer, is like a Hannibal Lecter unleashed on the wind-swept Montana plains.  I had the pleasure of meeting Zupan this past weekend at the annual Humanities Montana Festival of the Book and I was relieved to find he was nothing like his character.  After all, I left our brief encounter with both hands intact and all the teeth still in my head.  Make no mistake, John Gload is a horrible, horrible man and he rightly ends up behind bars in the early pages of The Ploughmen.  That's where he meets Valentine Millimaki, a sheriff's deputy who works the graveyard shift at the Copper County jail.  As the book's jacket copy explains, "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."  Most of the book consists of cat-and-mouse conversations between diabolical killer and sympathetic lawman, and I've gotta say, I was held spellbound for the entire 256 pages of the novel.  Zupan spins his tale with sentences that are rich in imagery and complex in construction.  This is a book which encourages readers to slow down and savor its near-poetic language.  At the same time, Zupan ratchets up the suspense with a menacing undertow.  Here, for instance, are a couple of passages which illustrate what I'm talking about: our introduction to John Gload as he kills a young man at the start of Chapter One:
As if to fend off a blow he threw up his arms in front of his face and the first bullet went through his thin forearm and through the top half of his right ear and went whirring into the evening like a maddened wasp. The next as he turned to run took him high in the back of the neck and he fell headlong and did not move. The old man went to him and examined the wound critically. He turned the boy over. The bullet had come out below his nose and the old man considered its work, while the boy batted his eyes and took in the sky beyond the killer's bland and placid face—gray clouds of failing winter, a small black leaf, a black kite, at last an enormous wheel of March's starlings, descending with the mere sound of breath.
...and this from a few pages later,when Gload throws a sack of body parts into the water near a dam:
A fine spray rose above the dam's railings from the torrent roaring through the floodgates and when Gload finally stopped it appeared as a downy luminescent cloud above his head. He stood at the rail and watched the amber water of spring thaw surge through the sluicegates. He turned. Behind him in the curve of the dam, tree limbs wheeled about in a huge scum-covered whirlpool, rising and falling like the arms of drowning giants. Half-inflated plastic grocery bags like men-of-war bobbed in the wrack and there were animals so terribly bloated that they may have been cats or hogs and he could make out the dented prow of a skiff and there was all manner of floatable trash and slim branches fluted by beaver teeth and there were ducks and small waterbirds, their dead eyes gemlike in the glare and everywhere in the slime like a grotesque choir the round sucking mouths of voracious river carp.
I know I haven't said much about today's book trailer.  It's a simple, well-made video in which Zupan describes how he came to write The Ploughman--a process that took nearly a decade--and how it originated in his friendship with a former sheriff's deputy in Great Falls, Montana.  "This story percolated in my head for a number of years before it forced its way out," Zupan tells the camera.  The simmer-and-percolate period was well worth it and I, for one, am glad the novel has emerged for the rest of us.  The Ploughmen is, without a doubt, one of the best novels I've read this year.

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