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Butcher's Crossing by John Edward Williams

Butcher's Crossing (1960)

by williamsjohnedward

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English (12)  Dutch (3)  Italian (2)  Catalan (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (19)
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Would recommend this to anyone who enjoyed Stoner. It is an unsentimental and bleak description of the futility of buffalo hunting, but it is beautifully written, spare and gripping. ( )
  bodachliath | Nov 11, 2014 |
Williams was happy with three of his novels, and wrote four overall. There's more good writing, intellectual effort, emotional depth and social commentary in any one of the three approved novels than in all 18897874006836789308746739489764 items of Rothdike's oeuvre. And yet, this is relegated to cultish status, while even your great-great-grandma Ethel has probably read at least one of the Rabbit series.

My general grumpiness aside, this is amazing. The best comparison is Flaubert, another author who wrote, meticulously, a small number of novels that have almost nothing in common with each other except their excellence. Stoner is Williams' 'Bovary,' a novel that relies on the reader being able to empathize with either the main character or the narrator. 'Butcher's' is his 'Sentimental Education': not as well crafted (though still better crafted than anything else you'll come across), but probably appealing to a broader range of people. Also, a bit slow.

He takes on most of the themes you'd expect in a Western: nature, violence, solitude, heroism, and death. But there's more here than in a standard revisionist "it wasn't all cowboys and love stories" western. Rather than worrying away at the Western tradition, Williams uses those themes to worry away at America's soul and it's poorly aligned goals of getting back to our 'natural, authentic selves,' and commercial gain. Getting back to nature (which is a violent, deadly place) will, in the end, drive you mad. And commercial gain will turn you to nihilism. Given those options, it's impressive that Williams manages to give us an unsilly and ambivalent conclusion. A lesser author would have been forced into Sartre territory.

Finally, despite superficial similarities (long horse-riding scenes; long technical descriptions of lost arts), B'sC has nothing important in common with Blood Meridian. BM is a sophisticated, deeply moral satire, that is ultimately concerned with questions of good and evil; it uses its 19th century setting to criticize 20th century life. B'sC has much more in common with Moby Dick, as other reviewers have pointed out: it's not engaged with the westward course of empire, but with the terrifying real-world consequences of the American philosophical tradition, from Emerson to the present.

Definitely one to give to friends who are either flag-wavers or want to 'get back to nature.' ( )
1 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Somewhere in my travels around LT I read a posting that said in effect, when it came to westerns, Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams was one of the best . Wow, thought I, that’s a western that I have never heard about and immediately went about tracking it down. Now I owe a big thank you to that unidentified poster for pointing me in the direction of this book.

This isn’t a big action packed story, instead it tells a simple tale of a young man who comes to the west sometime in the late 1870’s looking for that unknown something that young men search for. He hooks up with an older man, a buffalo hunter who tells him of a valley that he once stumbled upon. A valley nestled up against the Rocky Mountains with lush grass, water, plenty of game and, uncounted buffalo. Together with two other men they set out to find this valley and hunt the buffalo who take refuge there.

With characters that are complex and memorable, the author weaves his story together with sparse yet picturesque writing. Partly a coming of age story, partly a ecological essay, Butcher’s Crossing captures the essence of a land on the brink of change, the hunter’s time almost over, the buffalo having been brought to the edge of extinction. It will soon be the time of the railroads, as they move in and open up the land for ranching and farming. I don’t understand why this work isn’t better known with it timeless writing and it’s very current themes. I know that I found it to be a wonderful read and for me, helps to define what a revisionist western is meant to be. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | May 26, 2013 |
A memorable book. One could reasonably make a comparison to Cormac McCarthy, not because of the writing style (they are opposites, and each good in their own way) but because of the vast and awe-inspiring setting. Man vs. Nature, in capital letters. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
I didn't enjoy this as much as Williams' other novels, Stoner and Augustus, which were both two of my absolute favorite books I read this year, but it was nonetheless a very good read despite some slow going for me through the first half. It was really hard for me to get engaged in this book at first for some reason, but that was probably more my fault than the book's; I just don't think I was in the mood for a western when I started it, but I was definitely craving more Williams, so that kept me going. Once the characters found themselves in true jeopardy, snowbound in the mountains, that was where the rubber hit the road for me, and from that point on the rest was gripping. Even through the slow parts, though, Williams' fine prose sustains you. For those looking for a revisionist western/back-to-nature/survival novel that is also a well written piece of literature, you can't go wrong here. I could see it making a fine film adaptation, which it is slated to be in 2013. I look forward to that, if only for the reason that it will garner some more attention for this under-recognized novelist. ( )
  RodV | Feb 18, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
williamsjohnedwardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Krol, EdzardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Latiolais, MichelleIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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