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Butcher's Crossing (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – 1 Jul 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (1 July 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590171985
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590171981
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.6 x 20.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 101,083 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'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)

'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)

Book Description

The author of Stoner delivers something completely different but equally unique, skewering romantic notions of the Wild West with a brilliant, brutal tale of buffalo hunters that reverberates with understated power. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 61 people found the following review helpful By wordparty on 17 April 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a tremendous book. It concerns the journey of a young man from the "civilised" east into the "uncivilised" west in search of something unconfined and new, and the impact of what he discovers there in the savagery of the buffalo hunt.
Several other books came to mind while I was reading this including "The Heart of Darkness," "The Old Man and The Sea," and very definitely "Moby Dick."
If you are looking for a conventional western tale, this book may not be for you. There is no gun-slinging; there are no Indians or sheriffs - instead there is life on the edge of things, without morality or restraint, and the hypnotic fascination of slaughter and destruction. And the changes on the individual characters that elemental experience creates, as man rampages through the diminishing wilderness.
But while there may be allegory, there is also a riveting story of hardship and survival that is as gripping as it is realistic. We get the smell of the west, or the stench rather, and the burn of the sun and the brutality of the hard country and the snow, and - as the doomed buffalo are skinned - the peeling away of the outer layers of civilisation to show the raw meat underneath.
The book is divided into three parts: preparations to head out for the wild country; the finding, the killing and the marooned months of the buffalo hunt itself; and the return to the town of Butcher's Crossing, from which the hunting party set out.
Each part has its own strength and brilliance. The final part is apocalyptic and the very end masterly.
I had never heard of John Williams before happily stumbling across the kindle edition of this book. For me it had almost everything you look for in a novel: a strong story, sharp characterizations, pace, fine writing, and that other revelatory layer beneath it all that stays in the mind for a long, long time.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Geoff Crocker on 12 Jan. 2014
Format: Paperback
John William's `Butcher's Crossing' is a perfect blend of storytelling, character study, moral challenge and social comment. The intense interaction between the determined, capable, dominant, driven Miller, the naïve young graduate investor Andrews, the caustic hired hand Schneider, and the religious wino Charley Hoge is fascinating and pertinent. Williams sets this seamlessly into the wider scenario of the characters of a small town population, nature's hostility in blistering desert, snow blizzard and raging river torrent, casual pointless exploitation of the buffalo herds, and the overwhelming vagaries of the market capable of trouncing all best human endeavour. Here is the primeval human condition and human context which Boston's distant civilisation only thinly masks. It's a masterly novel, worthy of a place in the canon of classical literature.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By peggysue23 on 14 Jan. 2015
Format: Paperback
I came across this book totally by chance and found it an extraordinary read. It is tightly construed and although the prose is, at times, sparse, the portrayal of life in the yet to be civilized west ( Kansas and Colorado in the 1870s) is vivid and memorable.
The book can be read on a number of levels. The most straightforward is that of a story; a young man leaves his comfortable and privileged life in the East ( Harvard and Boston) to experience life in the west. The first par of the book concerns William Andrews arrival at Butchers Crossing, a ramshackle new town in Kansas where he encounters an experienced buffalo hunter called Miller. Will Andrews is drawn into funding a buffalo hunt which Miller organises and in which 2 other people participate; Schneider the skinner of buffaloes and the alcoholic Hoge who drive the wagon and is responsible for the food. The middle part of the book concerns the hunt in which 3-5,00 buffalo are mechanically and mindlessly slaughtered with Miller, especially, being immune to the pleas of the others to cease and leave the valley. Consequently the hunt goes and too long, winter sets in and they are trapped in the valley until the spring. The third part is the return to Butchers Crossing, to find that there is no longer market for buffalo skins and the aftermath.
It is also a book about youth and experience, about personal growth and about survival. At the start of the novel Andrews is soft skinned, smooth faced but during the journey to the valley he describes a 'leanness and hardness' creeping into his body. This is then reflected in his thinking and subsequently his actions He becomes more focused on day to day survival skills and less connected to his past life.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By RachelWalker TOP 500 REVIEWER on 28 July 2013
Format: Paperback
I don't know what it is about "westerns", but I love them. I suppose I am just catching-on to whatever the appeal has always been of the wide-open-space, the landscape, the roughness and beauty, the nobility of endeavour, the forging of a new land amid savagery. The romance of it all. And as with all my favourite romances, there're equal parts tragedy. This tells the story of a somewhat naive but experience-hungry youngster who goes in search of life out west, real life out west. He is led to bankroll a buffalo hunt, and a group of four men troop off over the landscape to endure its deprivations in the hope of bringing back glory, and in the young man's case even just experience.

Buthcher's Crossing is a wonderful novel. I haven't read a book this good in some time. Above all, whatever else it is or may be, it's beautiful. A gentle savage tender lump-in-the-throat piece of art. John Williams is a fabulous writer - he reminds me of William Maxwell slightly. He writes simply, but also languorously. It's perfect writing, and it's hard to place why. There's nothing else to it other than the earnest telling of a tale, its tragedies and glories held in the same tonal regard. It speaks volumes about the human spirit in adversity, the lengths of human hope, of delusion, of the nobility of the pioneer spirit. It's, of course, a very sad book at times, but it has that kind of cumulative power that simple yet relentlessly told books have - they drive on into you, regardless.

Now, I know there's a lot of noise about William's Stoner, which is another wonderful book (shame he wrote so few; perfect though each is), but Butcher's Crossing is in my view even a tiny bit better. He writes the kinds of books that dig down into the soil of the human soul and bring up pure gorgeous water.
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