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on 5 August 2015
I have read the great John Williams backwards, starting with the sublime Augustus, then on to the singular Stoner and finally to his first real novel, the outstanding Butcher's Crossing. All three novels are unique and seem unrelated - the mosaic, Citizen Kane like structure of Augustus, the austere but deeply felt Stoner and finally, the Melville -like Western that so resembles the Border trilogy of Cormac McCarthy. Unlike most critics, I found this the best of Williams, and I'll tell you why.

This is an update of Moby Dick, or a Western Version of the Great White Whale chase, and that has long been a favourite of mine. This is a much easier read, and more emotionally involving. Our Ishmael is called Will Andrews, a rich boy from Boston bent on experiencing a wild Buffalo hunt. His Ahab is Miller, the hunter with both steel and madness driving him to kill and skin thousands of the great beasts. His Moby Dick is a place where buffalo can be hunted down without restraint. The book is a simple three act book - a great set up for the hunt, then the hunt itself - a bloody mess - and the subsequent series of disasters that the hunters meet, and finally, the sickening finale, replete with metaphysical meaning.

The writing is simple, spare and damn near perfect. Anyone can read Williams, yet he is not a simple writer at all. This book is much more narrative driven than Stoner, and hence is less well thought of by critics. What nonsense. This is a fabulous read, and I have read no better Western than this and the Border trilogy (also McCarthy's best, in my view), and perhaps, Little Big Man and True Grit right behind. If you don't like the genre, remember Moby Dick. 'One day you will see land where there is no land, and on that day you will meet Moby Dick.'

Top marks.
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on 30 November 2015
I was not specifically looking to buy this book but after considering buying a Cormac McCarthy novel I saw Buffalo Crossing mentioned in a review. So decided to give it a go and take pass on a possible McCarthy slaughterhouse. Glad I did. At times dream-like, this story of men going into the mountains to hunt buffalo of cinematic tale which had me wishes Sam Peckinpah could bring it to life with the likes of LQ Jones, Warren Oates and Strother Martin playing the growling and greasy hunters. I should say that while its story is of men isolated and struggling with nature it is not some macho story of men finding themselves through brutality and strength. Its a much more subtle approach and one that is compelling.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 22 December 2014
I came to "Butcher's Crossing" after reading "Stoner" and "Augustus", both of which I enjoyed enormously. It was almost too much to expect the earlier novel to be yet another John Williams triumph, but now I would be hard-pressed to make a qualitative distinction between the three of them. "Augustus" will always be my personal favourite, but each is a wonderful achievement in its own right.

As for at least one other reviewer, I became keenly aware of the connections with Conrad' s novella "Heart of Darkness" and even more with "Moby Dick". It is too crude to state simply that what Melville did for whaling Williams does for buffalo hunting, but Williams can well withstand the association. I can also understand the publishing reference to the very fine Cormac McCarthy early/middle novels culminating in "Blood Meridian" and "The Border Trilogy".

"Butcher's Crossing" is a powerful novel without a trace of pretension. It is beautifully written. The Colorado landscape itself stands beside the four who enter and experience this mythic world, all of whom are profoundly affected, not least of course, Andrews, through whose Harvard-educated consciousness we experience both scene and events, and through whose growing awareness we are drawn deeper into the drama and the meaning.

It is a slow burner of a book, though the opening section in Butcher's Crossing and the scrupulously understated development of the four hunters and the relationships between them is a fascinating build up to the first sight of the enormous herd and subsequent events. Meticulous attention to detail pulls us into the actuality in a quite extraordinary way, so that when the pace quickens we feel every nuance on our pulses.

In Andrews, the driven Miller, the cynical, sensual but sane and kindly Schneider and the Bible-loving isolate and whisky-loving oxen driver, Charley Hoge, Williams develops an unspoken bond that only the driven fanaticism of Miller will threaten to break. If there is one part of the novel that I feel a little uneasy about it is the quasi-romantic relationship between Andrews and Francine. I think that I can see its importance in the scheme of the book, but still feel slightly uncertain in that it seems a little forced - perhaps I am wrong here. On the other hand, it seems to me that to condemn the novel because it falls short of criteria required for the traditional western form - in other words that it is not for example "Lonesome Dove" or "Warlock" - is an irrelevance. Williams has no pretensions to be writing a "western" in that sense and in any event this fine novel escapes the confines of any specific genre.
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on 26 July 2014
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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on 29 October 2016
There is a review somewhere that says John Williams set the stage for Cormac McCarthy Blood Meridian, and that seems about right. A slowly developing story that gives an insight into the harsh life of the American frontiersmen and the end of the epic west. Sad and elegiac. Hard to feel much sympathy for some of the rough characters, who are not so much rough diamonds as just rough. And the motivations of the rather empty soul of the central character dont always ring true to me. But well written, and worth it overall.
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on 26 February 2015
To include this book in the genre of "western" novels, is to demean the book. This a book which wrestles with the meaning of life and the struggle of a young man to come to terms with it. It is set in the "wild west" at a time when man was doing his best to wipe the buffalo from the face of the earth.It is a wonderfully descriptive novel, with perceptive detail on the Colorada vastness both in summer and winter. All the central characters are painted in fine detail, and each one contributes to the whole. I was surprised by the author's fascination and very frequent use of the word "yellow", but he may well have felt that this was the dominant cloud of that countryside.
A well crafted novel which is well worth reading.
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on 4 December 2013
Butcher's Crossing is a powerful novel that, using a buffalo hunt as a metaphor, masterfully explores a range of important themes, including man's relationship with nature, man's search for understanding the essence of his own humanity and the conquest of the Wild West as part of the American experience. The story is a tragedy, and it mainly takes place in harsh conditions deep in the wilderness, so it is by no means a "light" read. However, as in Williams's other two novels, the writing is excellent and evocative and the story moves along nicely. Overall, Butcher's Crossing is a superb work of literature which I feel belongs in the same discussion as other great American novels such as Moby Dick and The Grapes of Wrath.
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on 2 April 2015
Who'd have thunk it? I enjoyed a book about buffalo hunting. OK, it isn't just that, it is a character study too. I had never heard of John Williams before ordering this book (and Stoner) but having read a review in one of the daily papers I thought I would give it a go, and I'm glad I did. His style is in-depth and descriptive but you never feel overwhelmed by it and I was immediately drawn into the story - so much so that I read it in 5 days - would have been less but I was swamped at work. At time bloody and brutal at others sweeping, poetice and lyrical. A really good read
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on 27 January 2018
This is one of the best books I have ever read. The story of four men on a buffalo hunt, it is at turns harrowing, beautiful, tender, informative. The descriptions of the wilderness these hunters roam are so well-written that at times I forgot the purpose of their journey, and just imagined being there. (The storm sequence in particular is breath-taking). The authors research into buffalo-hunting and outdoor survival must have been exhaustive.
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on 14 January 2015
Beautifully and sparsely written, this savage tale of the decimation of the bison in the mid-19th C can be tough going. Our young greenhorn hero from back East follows the western urge, finding a hunter who will take him into the high mountains to slaughter thousands of the shaggy bison, leaving skinned carcasses where they fall. A winter storm forces the small hunting party to live off their wits for many frozen months. This is not a traditional shoot 'em up western. It's a sad tale of human greed, wanderlust, American expansion, and slaughter of the innocents. The book deserves to be widely read.
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