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Paperback Butcher's Crossing Book

ISBN: 1590171985

ISBN13: 9781590171981

Butcher's Crossing

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Book Overview

In his National Book Award-winning novel Augustus, John Williams uncovered the secrets of ancient Rome. With Butcher's Crossing, his fiercely intelligent, beautifully written western, Williams dismantles the myths of modern America. It is the 1870s, and Will Andrews, Fired up by Emerson to seek "an original relation to nature," drops out of Harvard and heads west. He washes up in Butcher's Crossing, a small Kansas town on the outskirts of nowhere...

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

The Old West Comes Alive

It's hard to believe we had, at one time, such a place as the the old west for our young people to cut their teeth in! A young man from Boston who's spent 3 years at Harvard rides a stage coach across country to a deserted 10 horse town in Kansas. He's literally set down in the middle of nothing. I loved Williams' description of the `town'. The buildings had been hastily put up and the people were barely socialized. The only industry was killing animals to sell to a middle man for the Eastern market. Against this backdrop our Emerson besotted Bostonian joins up with a few hardened frontier men who are looking for a bank roll so they can chase their dream of killing buffalo. Our hero, Will Andrews, can't resist the adventure this Don Quixote and his Sancho Panza tempt him with. They set out and encounter way more than windmills. They head towards the mountains of Colorado. I'd never heard of John Williams until I came across a review of his "Stoner" which led me to "Butcher's Crossing". He's an incredible writer and though the entire book is not to be missed the last third was achingly beautiful. The landscape is intrinsic to the story. It could even be considered one of the main characters. Here's one of the many passages that I couldn't help reading over and over. It describes the coming of spring in the Colorado mountains, "The mountainside was a riot of varied shade and hue. The dark green of the pine boughs was lightened to a greenish yellow at the tips, where new growth was starting; scarlet and white buds were beginning to open on the wild-berry bushes; and the pale green of new growth on the slender aspens shimmered above the silver-white bark of their trunks. All about the ground the pale new grass reflected the light of the sun into the shadowed recesses beneath the great pines, and the dark trunks glowed in that light, faintly, as if the light came from the hidden centers of the trees themselves. He thought that if he listened he could hear the sound of growth." Writing just doesn't get much better than this in my opinion.

Camus in the American West

Poetic prose. Intense descriptions that almost threaten you enough with its unbearable inevitibility to stop your reading--see the buffalo massacre. Existential scenery and action throughout. A minimalist style that sculpts the story neatly. Butcher's Crossing is in the American vein of Cooper's Leather Stocking Tales--see The Priarie-; lifts the "Western" story telling above Oakly Hall and Cormack McCarthy, taking it to a new level--as Jarmusch did in his Western film Dead Man and beyond Eastwood's High Plains Drifter; Butcher's Crossing is a cowboy novel Camus would have written had he located The Stranger in America rather than Africa. Yet this is a great American novel regardless of setting that explores the energies and desires, drives and values that propel American society. The ending is as difficult to bear as the buffalo hunt--the metaphor of both and the novel overall leaves you inspired and disturbed. One of the best books I have ever read from an almost anonymous American novelist. Last note: John Williams' other novels, Stoner and Augustus are equally amazing works of writing, literature and art. John Williams should be required reading for every student of literature, at least. For people who love to read great writing, he is mandatory.

Brilliant! On a Par with McCarthy's BLOOD MERIDIAN

If such a thing as the Great American Novel can be said to exist, it would very likely encompass the country's 19th Century westward expansion. After all, it was this irresistible land grab - with its ruthless expulsion and genocide of native Americans, its hunting to exinction of buffalo, and its struggles against Nature in search of the better life - that defined America's cultural personality and self-image for the following 150 - 200 years. The rootless but ever-hopeful individualist, the lonely conqueror of Nature, the rugged Marlboro Man begat the robber barons and industrialists, the real estate, oil, and hedge fund tycoons, the Internet entrepreneurs, and even the self-righteous, Iraq-invading neoconservatives. Amazingly, John Williams's utterly brilliant BUTCHER'S CROSSING - perhaps, indeed, THE Great American Novel - appears to have gone largely unnoticed among the general reading public. Published in 1960, five years before the author's equally impressive STONER and 25 years before Cormac McCarthy's deservedly renowned BLOOD MERIDIAN, BUTCHER'S CROSSING encapsulates many of the American West's mythologies. Yet Williams is hardly a romantic in his interpretation. He presents the opening West as harsh and brutal, populated by socially challenged obsessives who view the land and everything in it as their private domains, seized by choice and held by force of will and gun. Williams's ostensible hero is William Andrews, fresh from three years at Harvard and seeking an adventure in the West with a childlike enthusiasm and understanding. His mind filled by a romantic, Emerson-inspired view of Nature and his pockets filled with an inheritance from his uncle, Andrews heads for the decidedly uninspired, six-building town of Butcher's Crossing, Kansas. Within a matter of days, greenhorn Will has met the local buffalo hide trader McDonald and a long-time buffalo hunter named Miller. The traditional hunting grounds in Kansas have already been depleted to the point where only small herds of a few hundred animals can be found. However, Miller had discovered a hidden mountain valley in Colorado nine years earlier teeming with buffalo and has been waiting for enough money to finance the expedition. In return for accompanying the party as an apprentice hide skinner, Andrews underwrites the hunt. Miller recruits his neurotic sidekick, the Bible-beating Charley Hoge as the wagon man and a taciturn German named Schneider as their skinner. While Miller is away purchasing the necessary supplies, Will meets a prostitute named Francine. She falls for his soft hands and not yet hardened heart, but the immature Will is frightened off by her aggressive sexuality. The bulk of BUTCHER'S CROSSING concerns the journey to find the buffalo, Miller's rediscovery of his Shangri-la valley, the hunt itself, the life-threatening storms the group endures, and finally, the difficult return trip to Butcher's Crossing to sell their hides. Along the way, Williams's book b

Another amazing John Williams novel

This is the third of John Williams' major novels I have read, although it preceded his other two significant novels, "Stoner" and "Augustus." Williams is just amazing: this novel (purportedly about a buffalo hunt in Colorado in the late 19th century) is entirely different from "Stoner" (set in an academic setting in early to mid 20th century Missouri), which in turn is entirely different from "Augustus" which focuses upon the first real Roman emperor. Yet, each novel speaks with an authenticity that is truly unique. As is true with the author's other two novels, there is more at issue here than just a buffalo hunt. His carefully structured narrative raises issues of the closing of the frontier, man v. nature, loyalty and honor, and the dynamics of human interaction. His style is also different from "Stoner," which was as lean a novel as I have read; here there is much more description, dialogue, and setting the stage. This very fine New York Review of Books edition (which also published "Stoner") is well crafted and has a helpful introduction my Michelle Latiolais, a former student of Williams. Amongst other things we learn that Williams in effect smoked himself to death, dying from emphysema. What a loss. We also learn from her introduction that some consider this book "the finest western ever written." Well, I guess it is sort of a western, though the characters don't wear funny hats and carry six-shooters; I prefer to think of it as a great novel set in the west rather than necessarily a "western." A truly magnificant work of literary craftsmanship and a great reading experience.
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