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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 23 July 2016
A well written gritty post-western.

Doesn't have the mythic depths of McCarthy's Blood Meridian, but still very good.
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on 14 January 2015
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. Finally It is also a story about the growth of a country with the 'civilised'' East contrasted with the uncivilised and just being discovered west, about opportunity and opportunism and also, perhaps, in the character of Miller about obsession mindless of the consequences.
The story presents the west in all its hardness There are no romantic sheriffs, gunslingers or battles with Indians. It is a harsh environment in which only those able to adapt survive. Overall I have found it an unforgettable read
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on 5 November 2016
Good story of the outback
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on 30 October 2016
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on 17 October 2016
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Two of my interests crossed paths and led me to read John Williams' novel, "Butcher's Crossing" (1960). First, I have become interested in literary American westerns, such as those written by A.B. Guthrie including "The Big Sky". Second, I became interested in Williams (1922 -- 1994) through reading his novel "Stoner". These interests in westerns and in Williams coalesced in "Butcher's Crossing".

"Butcher's Crossing" is a dark, thoughtful work framed by quotations from Emerson and Melville. The quotations offer competing views of nature and of optimism. The book is set in Butcher's Crossing, a small crossroads in Kansas in the early 1870s. The primary character, Will Andrews, 23, is the son of a well-to-do teacher and Unitarian minister. He has dropped out of Harvard and come west in search of what he perceives as "a freedom and a 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." The other primary character is Miller, whom Andrews meets early in his stay. Miller is a tough, hardened buffalo hunter who in the novel is the Ahab to Andrews' Ishmael. Andrews agrees to finance and participate in a buffalo hunt in the wilds of Colorado where Miller has observed large, pristine herds. Two other men participate in the hunt, Miller's friend, Charley Hoge, who has lost a hand, reads the Bible, and is alcoholic and Schneider, profane and cantankerous, but a hunter and expert skinner of buffalo. Two other important characters remain in Butcher's Crossing: Francine, a prostitute, and McDonald, a dealer in hides who had briefly known Andrews' father in Boston and participated in his Unitarian meetings.

The story is about the buffalo hunt and its impact, primarily on Andrews. Williams describes the long, dangerous journey to the mountains to find a large, unexploited herd. The center of the book describes in great detail the hunt of the buffalo and the wanton killing led by Miller. Virtually the entire herd is decimated with their bones and carcasses left to rot. The description is raw, harsh, and unforgettable. Williams describes how the four men get caught in a blizzard through their greed and killing and how, under Miller's leadership, they survive a furious winter. Then, the men return to a changed and near-deserted Butcher's Crossing with their labor, risk, and killing going for naught. The callow Andrews has been changed and has a brief, intense relationship with Francine, whom he had spurned before the hunt. The other men meet harsh fates as well through the hunt and the bitter winter and aftermath.

This is a darkly pessimistic novel about nature, about greed and lust, and about the dream and danger of searching to find oneself. Andrews comes to see the despair underlying his own life and the lives of those whom he meets in Butcher's Crossing. Near the end of the book, he reflects on his own decision to go west and on his short relationship with Francine:

"He could hardly recall, now, the passion that had drawn him to this room and this flesh, as if by a subtle magnetism; nor could he recall the force of that other passion which had impelled him halfway across a continent into a wilderness where he had dreamed he could find, as in a vision, his unalterable self. Almost without regret, he could admit now the vanity from which those passions had sprung."

Williams' writing is taut, descriptive, and largely understated. His novel takes some mostly formulaic western scenes and characters and transforms them through his writing and his insight. I don't find a tone of satire or mockery of the standard, formulaic western. Rather, Williams shows how this sometimes hackneyed form can have life and vision. With its questioning of what it sees as the superficial vision of the traditional type of western story, the book works to restate the power of the genre when used creatively. This book is multi-layered, dense, beautiful, and troubling. It rewarded the crossing of my interests in Williams and in the American western and made me want to think more about both.

Robin Friedman
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on 12 December 2016
Powerfully imaginative, but lacking the depth and subtlety of William's great novel, Stoner.

There are marvellous descriptions and lyric evocations of the human and geographic landscape. However, I found the endless killings of buffalo repetitive and the winter snowed-in section lacked sufficient interest.

By far the most gripping parts, for me, were the relationship between the protagonist, Will Andrews, and his prostitute girl-friend, Francine - which could have been developed much further - and the almost mute link between Will and the hard-nosed Macdonald. The sense that Will has become 'acutely aware', by the end, that everything is 'nothing', and yet life somehow comes from this void, does not quite work.
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on 27 April 2017
Great price and fantastic service
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on 1 August 2016
Very good
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 June 2014
I won't give anything away but will just say it is a tough novel about buffalo hunters in remote Colorado and life in the small failing town where they live. It describes the tiniest actions in detail so we get a close feel for the daily problems the men and women encounter and how they deal with them, using a combination of skill, strength, toughness of spirit and raw endurance. The scenes in the town are wonderfully realistic and convinced me that the author had researched every aspect of the period in minute detail. From the beginning I had a strong sense of being there as well as a gnawing suspense which made it an engrossing read.

Like the reviewer wordparty, the book reminded me of Heart of Darkness. However, in my view very very few books stand a genuine comparison with Conrad's masterpiece. It hardly detracts from the book but I found Williams's attempts to get inside the hero's mind, particularly towards the end, unconvincing.

I read the book a year ago and it is still just as vivid in my mind. That is as good a testimony as you can get and fully justifies a 5 star rating.
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