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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Western Heart of Darkness
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...
Published on 17 April 2012 by wordparty

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Starts well, dwindles, never recovers... Lovely descriptions of the landscape though. Read Stoner and then leave John Williams alone...
Published 4 months ago by John P McNulty


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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Western Heart of Darkness, 17 April 2012
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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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than a 'Western'..., 19 Dec 2013
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J. H. Bretts "jerard1" - See all my reviews
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Stoner has been highly (excessively?) praised but perhaps Butcher's Crossing is even better. Reading it reminded me of Joseph Conrad's comment: "My task is to make you hear, to make you feel,and, above all, to make you see. That is all, and it is everything." John Williams manages to do all of these things brilliantly in Butcher's Crossing. For example, by the end of the book you will have experienced what its like to be lost on the trail without any water, to be stuck in the middle of a huge snowstorm that goes on for days and to be in other extreme situations. The writing has a vivid hallucinogenic quality at times. But it is much more than a 'Western'. Like Stoner and Williams' 'historical' novel Augustus, Williams manages to combine great story-telling with a serious exploration of the individual's relationship with society and nature.Strongly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The primeval human condition in perfect storytelling, 12 Jan 2014
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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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Butcher's Crossing - John Williams, 28 July 2013
By 
RachelWalker "RachelW" (England) - See all my reviews
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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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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SIMPLY A CLASSIC, 10 Nov 2013
By 
Alexander Bryce (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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Shamefully John Williams is new to me, but not for long as I will now read all of his work because of the pleasure I got from Butcher's Crossing. It is a western, but not a gun slinging, Indian fighting type of western. It is much more than that.
Andrews a young man from a privileged Boston background sets out to find himself and his purpose on the edge of civilisation's still Wild West. Starting in Kansas he finances a buffalo hunt into the mountains of Colorado. There are four main characters: Miller the stoic hunt leader, his alcoholic side kick and wagon master Charlie Hoge, the skinner Fred Schnider and young Andrews himself .
The journey to the "hidden valley" in itself makes for a fine gripping yarn as they battle against the terrain with an unwieldy wagon and for a time a desperate lack of water. The slaughter of the beasts is unrelenting as Miller driven by blood lust or dollar greed determines to kill every one of the several thousand buffalo who have peacefully summered in this valley for centuries. Andrews learns under the tutelage of Schnider how to skin and stretch the hides and how to butcher the carcasses for sustenance. Gradually the youthful slack body becomes that of a hard man. Charlie like a true alcoholic quietly goes about the business of running the camp sustained by whiskey laced coffee. Never drunk , but never entirely sober and never far from his Bible.There is constant conflict between Miller and Schnider as to a limit to the killing and when to leave the valley before being trapped by winter snow. Andrews tries to be the voice of reason ,but is out of his depth in this situation while Charlie blindly and faithfully sides with Miller. There is a dubious possibly homosexual relationship between these two.
Apart from the four main players there are other cameo appearances at Butchers crossing of the shrewd , hides dealer McDonald and the whore with a soft side , Francine who falls for Andrews .
The descriptions of the journeys, the hunt, life on the edge and the weapons and tools are fascinating and based I am sure on much research. As is the precarious economics of a buffalo hunt. Such detailed descriptions add immensely to the reality of the story.
This book pre dates the best of Cormac McCarthy's work and McMurtry's Lonesome Dove and in many ways excels both. From me this is high praise. Some scholars see it as an allegory for the Vietnam War. I don't know about that, but I know that for me it is an impressive piece of writing to be enjoyed on several levels.
Yes it is that good; and a must read for anyone interested in this time and place in history or anyone with an interest in well researched , clean, absorbing writing.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, 3 Sep 2013
By 
Peter Lee (Manchester ,United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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After reading John Williams's "Stoner: A Novel (Vintage Classics)" earlier this year I was desperate to read the rest of his work to see if it was as good. Although I've never really been a fan of westerns I looked forward to reading "Butcher's Crossing", if only for the writing.

Will Andrews wants to see what life is like in the open and arrives at the town of Butcher's Crossing in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the 1870s. After spending a night in a hotel he meets a hunter who tells of huge herds of buffalo in a remote valley, and soon Andrews joins the man and his colleagues on a hunting trip to find the buffalo. They trek for a long, long time and eventually find the buffalo, and soon the hunt begins, but gripped by blood lust their leader decides that they cannot head back until all of the buffalo have been killed and skinned, and soon the winter rolls in...

It's a simple story where if I'm honest not an awful lot happens - they go on the hunt, they kill buffalo, they head back - but the tale is really about the men and their surroundings, not really what happens to them. Indians are glimpsed living peacefully by a river, but that's all - it's a western, not cowboys and indians. The writing is exquisite from start to finish, and it's another masterclass in style from Williams. All in all it's a decent story, albeit not the most exciting tale, but the writing is fantastic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In fact it is a wonderfully absorbing picture of what some aspects of life in ..., 29 Sep 2014
All the blurb and other references to this novel make it clear it is not your average genre western. If that's what you expected and then write a critical review, you've missed the point. In fact it is a wonderfully absorbing picture of what some aspects of life in the 'Wild West' were probably like. It provides superb, lyrical descriptions of the landscape, authentic psychological sketches of the types of characters to be found there, and a very real, sometimes exciting, and moving narrative of the search for and trade in 'buffalo' hides at a time when their vast herds were already dwindling. The denouement of the tale rings absolutely true, and teaches the young 'hero' something about about himself and his country at the same time. In a way this book is the Great American Novel Hemingway should have written but never did. It has his clarity and simplicity of prose, and a flavour of some of his early short stories eg Big Two-Hearted River Parts 1 & 2. It is not too high praise to rank it alongside The Old Man and the Sea (and perhaps even Melville's Moby Dick, which it bears some similarity to). It also carries the rare moral authority of the works of writers like Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. But I can think of very few novels which have ever made me feel I was truly sharing the experience described quite so intensely, brilliantly and successfully as this one does. I am baffled that it has taken the literary world so long to discover John L Williams (his 'Stoner' is also a wonderful and moving piece of writing.)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read about a young man finding himself, and so much more, 26 July 2014
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I like books about old America, so having not yet read Stoner by this rediscovered author, I was brought to this book by the reviews of the more famous book. It did not disappoint. A story of a young man who sets out with three others to hunt buffalo in the dying days of it being a very profitable thing to do. The writing is wonderful, absolutely conjuring up the wild plains and mountains of the American West, descriptions of country, men and emotions putting you right there with it. Yet it is very easy to read and gallops along so that you want to know how it all ends. I will be reading more of John Williams's books.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good tough read, 15 Jun 2014
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hfffoman (Kent) - See all my reviews
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This is a tough novel about buffalo hunters in remote Colorado and life in the small failing town where they live. I liked the way it describes the tiniest actions in detail so we get a close feel for the problems these people encounter and how they deal with them, using a combination of skill, strength, and raw endurance. The picture that emerges is very different from the wild west typically seen in films and felt to me well researched and accurate. This gave me a strong sense of being there as well as a gnawing suspense which made an engrossing read.

Some of the attempts to get inside the hero's mind were not so convincing, for me, particularly towards the end when it seemed that he was trying to achieve a profound psychological conclusion like Heart of Darkness, and not really succeeding. Heart of Darkness is a masterpiece. This is just a good novel. I would have given 4.5 stars if halves were allowed.

Afterthought: several months later I find the story just as vivid in my mind as it was when I read it. This is as good a testimony as you can get and I take back the comment about 4.5 stars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable, 16 July 2014
By 
Didier (Ghent, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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I raved about 'Stoner' as many of us did, and spurred on by the intense experience of reading that novel I also bought both 'Butcher's Crossing'. In a way, they are completely different books, so much so that according to me if one read both books without knowing the author's name few would guess they are in fact by the same author. But then again, 'Butcher's Crossing' has the same intensity and though it is set in an entirely different time and location, I was bowled over as much if not more than by 'Stoner'.

In 'Butcher's Crossing' we meet Will Andrews, who dropped out of his third year at Harvard and travelled West to the godforsaken town of Butcher's Crossing looking for... well, what is it exactly he's looking for? Perhaps as Henry David Thoreau would put it 'to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life' I guess. Andrews teams up with a motley crew: the buffalo hunter Miller, his (half-crazed) assistant Charley Hoge, and the skinner Schneider, and together they travel to a remote Colorado valley, where according to Miller a lost herd of buffalo roams, just waiting to be killed by the right men. What follows is an incredible journey with untold hardships, where Will gets to know each of his companions, and himself, stripped of all cultural and social conventions. Miller is as obsessed by this almost mythical herd of buffalo as Ahab was by the white whale, and before the story is over Will Andrews, just as Ishmael did, will find that he has indeed come a long way from Harvard.

Told in a sparse but perhaps therefore all the more vocabulary, this is one of the very best books I read in recent years. To coin a cliché: unputdownable.
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