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An American Masterpiece
on October 5, 2014
I first read John William's novel, 20 year ago, when it was reissued by the NYRB Press, and recognized it immediately for a work of incredible craft, beauty and insight by an author I had never previously even heard of. A month ago, I read William's Augustus upon its re-issue, and again knew I was in the presence of greatness. But neither work prepared me for Butcher's Crossing which, hard as it is for even me to believe, surpasses them both.
Butchers Crossing is a novel that stares unblinkingly at the utter meaningless of our romantic (read, Emersonian) conception of Nature, and the empty egoism of our own inflated sense of ourselves as sentient beings, and yet finds incredible Beauty in existence. It is not an exaggeration to rank William's accomplishment in this novel with the novels of Melville, Conrad and Thomas Mann. It is book that will stay with me a long time, and that I know I will pick up again with even greater pleasure. A treasure, all the more so for being so unexpected.