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Showing 1-10 of 160 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 195 reviews
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.
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HALL OF FAMEon March 25, 2012
This 2007 novel is so well done that it seems it was actually written in the 1870's when the West was young and buffalo herds were still available for slaughter. This is the coming-of-age story of Will Andrews, an Eastern college dropout, who comes to Kansas for an adventure and finds it when he joins up with three other men on an ill-advised adventure trip to a Colorado Valley to hunt for buffalo.

There is an authenticity to this story that made me feel as if I was right there with them, a silent party in their midst, experiencing the grueling trip through parched land, storms, and open terrain and the eventual discovery of a buffalo herd. After that there is an orgy of killing, so ferocious and appalling that I couldn't help but be nauseated. I certainly learned everything that I ever wanted to know about a buffalo hunt, and a lot more I never wanted to know.

When this small group of hunters get stranded during an icy winter, they have no choice but to dig in and try to survive and the descriptions of the cold and hunger, conflicts and perseverance of the group make for great reading. How it all turns out seems inevitable later with Will Evans growing into manhood against the backdrop of this dark era in America's history.

I absolutely loved this book. Every word was an adventure for me. I felt I was actually sharing the hunting experience down to the last detail. This is a great story. Don't miss it.
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on October 15, 2014
I enjoyed this, it is a wonderfully written western novel with well drawn characters and stirring descriptions of the wilderness when the Buffalo ran free and the land was rich and untouched.

This is the story of a young and untried Will Andrews who arrives at Butcher's Crossing in search of enlightenment. He gets more than he bargained for when he funds a expedition with the taciturn Miller in search of the rapidly decliining Buffalo.

After a gruelling and harrowing trip they track their quarry in a pristine, bounteous valley high in the mountains....and then the slaughter begins. Here my review takes a bit of a tangent because I have to say that.....

I felt for those Buffalo, Slaughter for the mighty dollar. It was ironic that later when Andrews and Miller were fighting to survive that it was the Buffalo that aided their survival.

It is a well written, a sometimes disturbing novel, but it does make you feel emotion and that's why I'm rating it so highly. I don't consider it the best in this genre, but it is up there......
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on October 13, 2012
John Williams' well constructed western novel is minimal in sentiment and takes an even handed approach to the struggles between man and nature. Nature is not evil in Williams' world, like Hemingway he portrays nature as a neutral non-caring force that supports humanity as well as destroys humanity. In this regard, the novel could be compared to the more mythic Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Williams is careful to show that mankind may master many skills when dealing with nature but that a slip or mistake can have fatal non-forgiving consequences. This is an American novel, it speaks of the American national experience in realistic non-romantic passages that take the reader deep into the heart of the North American continent's heart.

Williams' writing style is highly organized, there are no tangents or extra flourishes or unnecessary descriptions. Like William James and Nabokov, the story is as tight as a well constructed brick wall, facts and descriptions and experiences all are the precise building blocks for a novel with not a word out of place. I can imagine this novel would be appropriate for a college course on creative writing as an example of a novel that gets to the point, tells the tale, does not digress, makes its points and moves on. The novel is written in three sections and each section is further divided into short chapters. This structure gives the impression that the basic armature and direction of the entire novel was outlined with precision before the first paragraph was written. This is not a criticism; it is an observation that this novel's structure is strong but evident.

The great exploration and exploitation of the American west in the 1800s is certainly part of the American myth. The beauty of this novel is that it explores the many themes of exploration and ruthless exploitation of the natural resources in a purely descriptive neutral voice. The great white whale in this novel is the vast power of snow storms in the Rocky Mountains and the untamed roaring rivers and the dry forbidding deserts. Those that hunt the whales in Moby Dick may encounter the great white whale. In Williams' world, those that hunt the buffalo may encounter the consequences of the natural world, the winter in the Rockies.

The novel is written from the perspective of a neutral all-seeing narrator but the experiences of young Andrews, a Harvard drop-out, form the journey on which the novel is constructed. Andrews encounters the sage in the person of McDonald, a man who deals with buffalo hide blankets for the European market. Andrews becomes a party to a hunting expedition, which he finances through a small inheritance, with a fascinating charter, Miller, who exemplifies competency and survival instinct in the wild. They are joined by Charley Hoge, a one-armed, camp-cook, wagon driver who seeks protection for a Bible that he can not understand. They are also joined by a wild buffalo skinner, Schneider, a man uncomfortable in the wild and just as uncomfortable among his fellow man.

The character of Miller is central to the novel. He is a skilled hunter and very knowledgeable of the wild and survival. He is careful and a leader. He manages and distributes resources, is fair, and controls controversy. The novel however puts Miller to the test for it is Miller's temptation for excess and his pride that put the entire expedition into peril. We witness the fall of the hero here for Williams gradually, chapter after chapter, reveals to us Miller's considerable strengths and abilities, and then as the novel comes to a peak, we now see how the fatal flaws of the hero result in the conditions that bring him down. When the hero is a leader of a tribe, the fatal flaws may bring down the entire tribe. Miller is not the enigmatic Captain Ahab. He is far more present as a fleshy muscular problem-solving pack leader that Ahab. He is more akin to a realistically drawn Ulysses, constantly called upon to offer the solutions that insure survival of the hunting pack. Miller exemplifies the limitations of human cunning and willpower. Some may think that nature seeks revenge against Miller for his excessive slaughter of the buffalo. But Williams' novel presents this peril not as the revenge of a personalized nature but as the simple consequences of excessive human obsession and pride. Williams carefully and beautifully describes the grandeur of nature but he never romanticizes and he never personifies nature. A careful reader will appreciate the considerable control William displays throughout the novel but especially in his resistance to describing nature in any other than natural, realistic, neutral prose.

William Andrews, who drops out of Harvard after his third year, seeks the challenge of the west. It is to Williams' credit that Andrews is not a brainless romantic and that he is a fast learning in a world where fast learning is necessary for survival. There is a young pretty prostitute, Francine, and William Andrew's encounters with her before the hunt and after the hunt are testimony to the changes that have been wrought in his personality due to the experiences he had in the winter storms.

The character of Charley Hoge is more than a side-kick, for Charley has been touched by nature when he hand froze in a previous expedition and had to be amputated by Miller in the wild. Charley now carries an old Bible which he reads often but understands less. For Charley, the Bible is a talisman against the consequences of nature.

Comparisons may be made with Cormac McCarthy's novels but there is an essential distinction. McCarthy sees the evil human being as being more akin to the unfeeling force of nature than to his fellowman. Thus in McCarthy's novels there is often violence of man against man in epic battles not unlike Williams' description of the battle with winder in Butcher's Crossing.

This book is exceptional and deserves a wide readership. It is the type of Western novel that is exemplary American literature.
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on December 7, 2016
"A cold wind blew across the prairie when the last buffalo fell..... a death wind for my people."
~~Sitting Bull

They came down into valley, and the buffalo herds were moving darkly over the land like waves on the ocean. The men slowly moved in on them. The first shot went to kill the leader of the herd, more shots would follow. My mind stopped. The buffalo just stood there in wonder of what was going on. and one by one they were killed. What innocence they had. What beautiful creatures. What a very moving novel.
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on June 23, 2015
This is one of the great classic westerns written by an author who only wrote four books of which this is the only western. It is up there with Lonesome Dove as a raw description of life in the 19th century west, in this case centred on a buffalo hunt rather than a cattle drive. Never less than gripping it is a story of transformation, in this case of the central character, as he drifts into a world that is a long, long way from his eastern seaboard origins and into the gritty and brutal reality of that new world. A wonderful read.
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on July 12, 2014
This book has been called the greatest western ever written. Williams is not a “western” novelist, like a Louie Lamoure, just a great writer that wrote a novel set in the west. The story is about a greenhorn from Boston with wanderlust caused by ennui who joins some buffalo hunters at “Butcher’s Crossing.” Let’s just say things don’t go as planned. Interesting characters, beautiful descriptions, but an ending you may or may not like. I could never quite grab hold of the author’s overall thesis, but I feel like it was my fault and not his. To give you a sense of the power of his writing, I was reading the book while riding the train to work and the passage was about the characters being trapped in a blizzard. When the train stopped and I went to get off, my first thought was if I had an overcoat to keep me warm in the storm I was about to enter. So, not frivolous fare, but a substantial read that isn’t dense. 4-1/2 stars our of 5.
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on January 30, 2016
Truly, one of the great novels of the west, up there with "True Grit" "The Son" and "The Sisters Brothers" . This, though, vastly more poetic in its depiction of the life, challenges and obsessions that were unique to the time and place. Like Williams's other books, there is a prevailing sense of sorrow, loneliness in the personal journey of the protagonist Will Andrews. However, the development of character is wonderful, the writing and style truly beautiful as the story unfolds. The backdrop of the west is like a magical Hudson River School painting which inspires and intreagues in its beauty. .
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on December 13, 2014
This is one of the best novels I've read in years. In terms of depth and its study of the human condition I would compare it to a book like "Of Human Bondage" by W Somerset Maugham with its profound insight to life.
The story is deceptively simple, it's basically a classic western. A young man from the civilized east seeks adventure in the west and joins a hunting party going into unsettled country on a buffalo hunt. They get snowed in over winter and struggle to survive before coming back in the spring. However the little town of Butcher's Crossing from which they departed has changed and that change mirrors what has happened to them.
For a novel that has such emotional and philosophical punch it is remarkably easy to read and the pages just fly by.
Highly recommended.
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on November 26, 2014
John Williams of Stoner and Augustus, a National Book Award winner, seems to have no shortage of talent and loneliness at play in his three classic works. This is a tad over-described for the western reader who knows the form's 'non-literary' contributors, who also broke new ground time and time again, but it is utterly strong, nonetheless.
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