Top positive review
2 people found this helpful
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.'