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Butcher's Crossing by John Williams

Butcher's Crossing (1960)

by John Williams

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English (17)  Dutch (5)  Italian (2)  Catalan (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
I loved 'Stoner', John Williams' recently rediscovered classic novel, and I'm generally a fan of Western novels, so this has been on my 'to read' list for some time. For most of the book, it is like a survival guide. As we follow the four men on their epic journey across the Colorado plains in the 1870s, we learn how to survive in hot arid conditions with little or no water; and then, how to survive a winter snowed up in a mountain pass (it helps to have piles of buffalo hides). It's a novel consisting mostly of dramatic, poetic descriptions of landscape and weather with only occasional moments of drama. You will also learn everything you need to know about how to shoot large numbers of buffalo while still keeping the herd together so you can shoot more, and how to skin and butcher them (eating the raw liver is particularly recommended for its magical properties - if you can stomach it). There is no doubting the authenticity of this novel.
The characters would easily fit in to a John Ford western - the whore with a heart of gold, the grizzled, bible-bashing, whiskey-soaked wagon driver with one hand, the wise old superman-type leader who is more than slightly unhinged, the angry rebellious buffalo skinner who clashes with the leader. However, for me, the problem was the main character, Will Andrews. He's very much the same kind of almost anonymous dreamer with no clear vision of what he wants from life as Stoner. But whereas that eponymous character, against all the odds, worked brilliantly, the same type of character doesn't cut it in a Western. One example of why I found him annoying - when they start shooting and skinning buffalo, he finds it repulsive, destructive and wasteful and empathises with them - but he quickly gets over it and gets on with the job!
Despite these reservations, it's by no means a bad read. It's just that, if you want to read a really exciting Wild West novel which mixes myth with authenticity, go with anything by Larry McMurtry - especially 'Lonesome Dove'. ( )
  stephengoldenberg | Apr 6, 2016 |
A fabulous book. Like Stoner there s something simply special about the simplicity of the ideas and prose in this book. I think it is most like a Murakami book in that sense. There is no big plot, I mean there is a story obviously but the beauty is in the experience. This is a book to savour and the best of my year so far. Wonderful stuff. ( )
  polarbear123 | Jan 24, 2016 |
Part coming-of-age story, part a tale of an obsession, part a portrait of the beauty and horrors of the wilderness, part a how-to of all kinds of lost arts, part a paean to ingenuity, part western -- this novel is wonderful and I owe a debt to another LTer for her previous review of it.

It is the story of Will Andrews who heads out from Boston, inspired by Emerson to experience the west. He ends up in Butcher's Crossing, Kansas, because a man who knew his family in Boston had moved there. The man offers him a job in his buffalo skin business, but Will knows he wants to go out into he wilderness. He meets a man named Miller in the local tavern who spins him a tale of a distant valley, high in the Colorado mountains, where there are thousands of buffalo, ripe for the slaughter (there is a big business in buffalo skins), and convinces Will, who has an inheritance from an uncle, to bankroll the endeavor. Ultimately, there are three people in addition to Will on the trip: Miller, a one-handed man named Charley Hoge who is a follower of Miller, and a skinner named Schneider. They set off with oxen pulling a wagon driven by Charley Hoge, and the rest on horseback.

And so their adventures begin. They eventually reach the high valley, but not without hardships, including days without water and problems with the oxen. Once they reach it, it is everything Miller said, and they start an orgy of killing buffalo, with Schneider teaching Will how to skin them (a process that is described in detail). Miller's obsessiveness gradually becomes apparent: he wants to kill every last buffalo even though they would never be able to haul all of the skins out. Ultimately, the snow falls, and they are snowed in over the winter. How they survive is remarkable. Miraculously, the oxen and the horses survive too. But the men are changed. Schneider is even more bitter, Charley Hoge loses his mind, Miller saves them through his ingenuity but is completely obsessive, and Will grows up.

When they finally get back to Butcher's Crossing, after Schneider dies and they lose all the skins they were carrying in a river accident, everything has changed because the bottom has dropped out of the buffalo skin market. Will has changed views about Francine, a whore who he had previously spurned, and Miller is involved in a melodramatic incident. Of course, as you knew he would, Will eventually sets off for further experiences.

What makes this book so special is not just the excellent characterizations but also the vivid descriptions of everything from mountains to snow to herds of buffalo to how they are killed and skinned to survival tactics and much more. So far, this is my favorite book of the year.
7 vote rebeccanyc | Jan 15, 2016 |
Another amazing book by John Williams, who I first encountered reading his much-buzzed-about Stoner. Butcher's Crossing is an earlier book, and a bit rougher for it. It's best experienced knowing nothing about the plot—not even reading the back cover—so I won't discuss it at all, suffice to say that the final portion of the book is absolutely amazing. John Williams does introspection like no other author I've read (though I'll admit to not having read some of the touchstones of that mode, like Henry James).

Seriously, read Stoner and this book. ASAP. ( )
  gregorybrown | Oct 18, 2015 |
Eloquently, descriptively written tale of slaughter and discovery in the mid west. ( )
  jvgravy | Oct 11, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Williams, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Krol, EdzardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Latiolais, MichelleIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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»Es giebt Tage …, wo jedes Ding, welches Leben in sich hat, ein Zeichen der Zufriedenheit von sich giebt, und das Vieh, das hingestreckt liegt, große und ruhige Gedanken zu haben scheint. Nach diesem Halcyon kann man mit ziemlicher Gewißheit bei jenem reinen October-Wetter aussehen, welches wir mit dem Namen des indischen Sommers bezeichnen. Der unendlich lange Tag ruht schlafend auf den breiten Hügeln und den warmen weiten Feldern. Alle seine sonnigen Stunden durchlebt zu haben, scheint langes Leben genug. Die einsamen Orte scheinen nicht ganz einsam. Beim Eintritt in den Wald ist der erstaunte Weltling gezwungen, seine großen und kleinen, weisen und thörichten Dinge, auf die er Werth in der Stadt legte, dahinten zu lassen. Der Knappsack der Gewohnheit fällt von seinem Rücken mit dem ersten Schritt, den er in diesen Bereich hinein thut. Hier ist ein Gottesfurcht, die unsere Religion beschämt, und Realität, die unsere Helden in Mißcredit setzt. Hier finden wir, daß die Natur der Umstand ist, der jeden andern Umstand klein für uns macht, und daß sie einem Gotte gleich alle Menschen richtet, die zu ihr kommen.«
Ralph Waldo Emerson, ›Nature‹, in: Essays, Second Series. Boston 1845, a.d. Amerikanischen von G. Fabricius, Hannover 1858

»Ja, und die Dichter schicken das kranke Gemüt auf die grünen Auen, wie man lahme Pferde unbeschlagen auf den Rasen schickt, damit ihre Hufe nachwachsen. Die Dichter, die auf ihre Art auch so was wie Kräuterdoktors sind, die meinen ja, die Natur ist die große Heilerin von Herzeleid und Lungenweh. Und wer hat meinen Fuhrmann in der Prärie zu Tode erfroren? Und wer hat den Wilden Peter zum Idioten gemacht?«
Herman Melville, Maskeraden oder Vertrauen gegen Vertrauen, a.d. Amerikanischen von Christa Schuenke, Berlin 1999
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De postkoets van Ellsworth naar Butcher's Crossing was een oude manschappenwagen, zo aangepast dat hij behalve passagiers ook vracht kon vervoeren.
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In the 1870s, 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 full of restless men looking for ways to make money and ways to waste it. One of these men regales Will with tales of the immense buffalo herds hidden away in the Colorado Rockies and convinces him to join an expedition to track them down. At the end of a grueling journey, the men reach a place of paradisal richness, where they abandon themselves to an orgy of slaughter. So caught up in killing buffalo that they lose all sense of time, the men are overtaken by winter and snowed in. In the spring, half-insane with cabin fever, cold, and hunger, they stagger back to Butcher's Crossing to find a world as irremediably changed as they have been.… (more)

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Editions: 1590171985, 1590174240

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