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Butcher's Crossing (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – January 16, 2007

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Butcher's Crossing (New York Review Books Classics) + Augustus (New York Review Books Classics) + Stoner (New York Review Books Classics)
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Editorial Reviews


"One of the finest books about the elusive nature of the West ever written...It's a graceful and brutal story of isolated men gone haywire." --Time Out New York


"Harsh and relentless yet muted in tone, Butcher's Crossing paved the way for Cormac McCarthy. It was perhaps the first and best revisionist western." --The New York Times Book Review


"One of the finest novels of the West ever to come out of the West."--The Denver Post


"Williams didn't write much compared with some novelists, but everything he did was exceedingly's a shame that he's not more often read today...But it's great that at least two of his novels [Stoner, Butcher's Crossing] have found their way back into print." --The Denver Post


“Reading John Williams–even to have done so at the time these novels were written–is an exercise in nostalgia, a nostalgia found also in writers like Willa Cather, for whom the West represented a lost redoubt of intellectual dignity...It is tempting to say that Cather's tradition flagged because the West has changed – it is no longer anybody's bildungsroman–but it is safer to say that writers as talented and right-minded as John Williams are not naturally plentiful.” –New York Sun


This story about the hunt of one of the last great buffalo herds "becomes a young man's search for the integrity of his own being...The characters are defined, the events lively, the place, the smells, the sounds right. And the prose is superb, a rarity in writing about the west. More, John Williams."--The Chicago Tribune


"John Williams's unsparing novels express a highly qualified though resilient optimism about our ability to salvage something of value from life's impossible conditions. Along with the necessary isolation of the artist, he conveys the sobering if startled recognition--perhaps with his own career in mind--of the transitory triumph of art."--Times Literary Supplement


Butcher’s Crossing dismantles the myth of the west, revealing a horror story about the grinding day to day of just surviving…[a] restrained and gorgeous lyricism…even in its softer moments it doesn’t overdo anything, and the moral criticism is in the precision of the language, the now-famous simple and elegant Williams prose.” —Bret Easton Ellis, The Guardian

About the Author

John Williams (1922—1994) was born in Texas. He taught for many years at the University of Denver, where he was head of the creative writing program. Williams won the 1973 National Book Award in fiction for Augustus. His novel Stoner is also published as an NYRB Classic.

Michelle Latiolais is an associate professor of English at the UC Irvine. Her novel, Even Now, won a Gold Medal from the Commonwealth Club of California. She has recently published fiction and essays in The Antioch Review, Santa Monica Review, and ZYZZYVA.


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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 274 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (January 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590171985
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590171981
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (142 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Ronald H. Clark VINE VOICE on August 13, 2007
Format: Paperback
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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58 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Steve Koss VINE VOICE on August 27, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Jakfo on November 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
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.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Timothy J. Bazzett on March 7, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I "discovered" this book when I ordered a new copy of Williams' other novel, STONER. I'd never heard of Butcher's Crossing, but man, this is one helluva good read about the last of the buffalo hunters, but also an example of literary fiction at its finest. You hardly expect a Harvard man to be hunting the buff, but that's what you get here, as well as what he thinks about it all. There are probably many comparisons that could be made here. One other book I thought of while reading this one is THE MOTHERS by Vardis Fisher, an excellent novel about the Donner Party. The truth is though, John Williams is a one-of-a-kind author who, were there any justice in this world, should have been as well known as Updike, Roth and Bellow. This book is well worth your time. - Tim Bazzett, author of the Reed City Boy trilogy and Love, War & Polio
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