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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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on August 22, 2016
Fantastic novel which describes the beauty of the American West bisected by human carelessness, greed, and cruelty.
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on October 10, 2014
This book, written in 1960 is a classic Western set story of characters seeking something new in the resource rich West.
In this case the resource happens to be the Buffalo. Like the beaver, the buffalo was almost eradicated to provide for fashion trends in the East.

The author, John Williams, develops characters and sense of place in an interesting and sensitive manner. The tale unfolds with dramatic storytelling and descriptive prose.

As I'm not an English Lit type, I probably cannot reveal all of the allegory present in the tale. It is a very interesting read, one with lingering remaining thoughts for the reader
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on July 26, 2010
"Mr. McDonald," Andrews said quietly, "I appreciate what you're trying to do for me. But I want to try to explain something to you. I came out here -- " He paused and let his gaze go past McDonald, away from the town, beyond the ridge of earth that he imagined was the river bank, to the flat yellowish green land that faded into the horizon westward. He tried to shape in his mind what he had to say to McDonald. It was a feeling; it was an urge that he had to speak. But whatever he spoke he knew would be but another name for the wildness that he sought. It was a freedom and goodness, a hope and a vigor that he perceived to underlie all the familiar things of his life, which were not free or good or hopeful or vigorous. What he sought was the source and preserver of his world, a world which seemed to turn ever in fear away from its source, rather than search it out, as the prairie grass around him sent down its fibered roots into the rich dark dampness, the Wildness, and thereby renewed itself, year after year."

In Miller, Andrews sees this chance to seek the "source and preserver of his world"...the good, truth and beauty found only in nature...his calling for this 'Emersonian Transcendentalism'. Miller is over-confident in his plan for this kill and the riches it will surely reap.
Miller's hubris is reminiscent of a Greek Tragedy... in that the greed motivating the plot is also the greed which consumes the men...and ultimately and a bit ironically leads to the plot's dissolution.
This novel affected me and moved me by the way it inched forward into a monomania of disregard for the very truth and beauty in nature that it purported to seek.
The killing moved into a numbing process where Will's transformation was disturbing...like the automaton of which he speaks.

"The stench of the buffalo, the feel of the warm meat on his hands, and the sight of clotted blood came to have less and less impact upon his senses. Shortly he came to the task of skinning almost like an automaton, hardly aware of what he did as he sucked the hide from an inert beast and pegged it to the ground. He was able to ride through a mass of skinned buffalo covered black with feeding insects, and hardly be aware of the stench that rose in the heat from the rotting flesh."
I'm still digesting the layers and the rich evocative writing...it is 'as if' the lushness of the valley slowly dissipates in the frenzied slaughter of these gentle beasts.... along with minds and senses of the crazed men.

Early Revisionist Western?
How the West was won?...you decide!

But if you grew up on Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, John Wayne, and the Hollywood Westerns, this book will open a fresh, wider, truer, and much bloodier valley!
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on August 21, 2010
Fans of John Williams' academic novel, STONER, can rest assured that his western opus, BUTCHER'S CROSSING, will not disappoint, even if they are not fans of the genre. To me, the book is as much a book about nature and about the fall of man as it is about the west. It just happens to be set in Colorado in the 1870s.

Williams' protagonist is a shortened version of his own name, Will. In his early 20s, Will Andrews, the son of a preacher, is newly-arrived from Boston and out for adventure. He meets a buffalo hide dealer named McDonald and signs on with a hunter named Miller, his associate, Charley, and a skinner, Schneider. These four ride westward in search of a valley that only Miller claims to know of -- one filled with the last, great wild buffalo herd that will make them all rich men. In Miller we have an Ahab of the mountains, a man bigger than life who fills the pages and overshadows all around him. He's quite a creation.

Rich with description, Williams' evocation of the land and its moods is nothing short of spellbinding. His eye for detail depicting a hunter's life and skills also impresses. The reader can't help but vicariously experience the highs and the lows that only nature can deal out in most brutal terms. By the end, the hunt takes on more abstract and moral dimensions as the killing reaches epic proportions and the blood stains every member of the party, both literally and figuratively. Upon their return to Butcher's Crossing, they find a surprise. First, the condition of the town and the reason for it. And for young Will there are other surprises -- only these are to be found by searching within instead of looking out.

Well-written, realistic, and historically-accurate, this novel taps a deep and moving theme that will leave the reader thinking long afterward. You can't ask much more of a book than that.
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on September 13, 2016
The plot, which easily carries the reader, involves a buffalo hunt at the end of the white man's buffalo hunting era, but the focus of the book is on the protagonist's quest for meaning, which Williams handles well. Williams was influenced by Henry James, and the care Williams shows in crafting his sentences and the various characters' psychological states does credit to his mentor.
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on August 11, 2015
Very interesting book. It involves a very detailed & accurate look at the slaughter of the buffalo herds that once were beyond count. Ignore the preface written to go with this edition - it completely misses the major framework of the novel; which is a re-telling of "Moby Dick" taking place on the frontier instead of at sea. All the major characters are here - Ahab, Ishmael, Starbuck (only Queequeg is missing). Man's struggle to defeat the power of Nature is the theme here just as in Moby Dick.
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on January 8, 2014
John Williams is new to me. I read "Stoner" because it was "the best book nobody ever read". and loved it. I wanted to know more about this "unknown" writer and was stunned to discover he was long dead and had written in the 1960's.
Butcher's Crossing looked interesting so I choose to stay with Williams for a little longer. I was rewarded in spades. Butcher's Crossing, like Stoner, is beautifully written. No unnecessary words trouble these books. Williams" understanding and revelation of character is outstanding.
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on January 20, 2014
After reading this book i wanted to go live in the wilderness for a year, which is a little counter-intuitive since it's an anti-romantic wilderness story ... but William's sheer power of description brings the intensity of the wilderness to life with such vividness, that you find yourself mentally preparing to undergo an arduous survival trek. A few days after reading the book, i did have the good fortune to get lost while hiking and managed to find a river-crossing and a path home through some vicious bramble fields ... it was as if the book had made me tougher :) A masterful story with deeply haunting characters. And Williams is sooo poetic and concise at the same time.
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on October 20, 2016
A classic literary Western, “Butcher’s Crossing” drills down into the heart and sinew of America’s westward push, chronicling an unheroic but arduous buffalo hunt in 1870s Colorado. A Harvard student named Will Andrews comes into an inheritance and, full of Emersonian romantic optimism, goes west to find what experience his dollars will buy him. In Kansas he locates a buffalo sharpshooter, Miller, who needs an investor for a hunt he’s long dreamed of undertaking. Enlisting two others decidedly on the mangy side, the hunters trek west with an ox-drawn wagon, seeking the hidden valley thundering with buffalo that Miller dimly remembers. Lacking the I-15, the trip takes weeks, but they do find the buffalo and commence killing and skinning them. If you ever come across a herd of buffalo, this book is a manual for how to exterminate them.
The story’s end is more ironic than elegiac—but I’ve already said too much about the story, which is not really about a buffalo hunt, any more than “Moby Dick” was really about a whale hunt. More in the vein of “The Great Gatsby,” it’s about the American Dream, the fantasy of self-fulfillment through action that powers our national life. The trick that John Williams carries off is to immerse the reader in the grittiest, bloodiest details of the hunt, while actually conveying a much broader message.
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