It is the 1870s, and Will Andrews, fired up by Emerson to seek ''an original relation to nature,'' drops out of Harvard and heads west. He washes up in Butcher's Crossing, a small Kansas town on the outskirts of nowhere. Butcher's Crossing is full of restless men looking for ways to make money and ways to waste it. Before long Andrews strikes up a friendship with one of them, a man who regales Andrews with tales of immense herds of buffalo, ready for the taking, hidden away in a beautiful valley deep in the Colorado Rockies. He convinces Andrews to join in an expedition to track the animals down.
The journey out is grueling, but at the end is a place of paradisiacal richness. Once there, however, the three men abandon themselves to an orgy of slaughter, so caught up in killing buffalo that they lose all sense of time. Winter soon overtakes them: they are snowed in. Next spring, half-insane with cabin fever, cold, and hunger, they stagger back to Butcher's Crossing to find a world as irremediably changed as they have been.
©1988 John Williams (P)2010 Blackstone Audio
“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)
“[This story] 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." (Chicago Tribune)
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"A Tiring Listen"
I say this was a tiring read (not a tiresome one) for the sheer scale of the endeavour that the little group of four huntsmen endure. There is great thirst, distance, freezing snows, exhausting work in deplorable conditions to be read. It made me tired listening and at times I felt myself involuntarily dozing off from exhaustion, felt vicariously for these pioneers. I guess that endeavour is what built the countries that we now enjoy and there is some reason to take pride in it. There is also reason to reflect upon the waste (all those buffalo slaughtered) and the misfortune that courted every step. Williams captures all of that and, for that reason alone, his account is a worthy read. I can't say that I enjoyed the listen, but that was no fault of the writing, the reading or the underlying importance of the pioneer spirit. Heald captures the latter well, for example. For me, it was too real (if that is possible) and I am tiring just thing about it.
"A Holocaust of Hides"
"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."
- John Williams, Butcher's Crossing
Stop what you are doing. Nursing a baby? Put it down. Dousing out a wildfire? Walk away. Those things can wait. This book is here. You need to listen to it NOW. Serious. Focus. Life is short and dreams die. You need to freaking prioritize and this should be at the top of your list.
This book might have just pushed right into my top ten books of all time. I'm not sure what book got pushed out, but perhaps the Old Testament just had to go. Seriously, this book is that good. Well, perhaps, not Old Testament good, but there were times when reading this I felt GOD's finger might have just been scratch this prose on a rock or bleached bone in a mountain somewhere.
”You get born, and you nurse on lies, and you get weaned on lies, and you learn fancier lies at school. You live all your life on lies, and then maybe when you’re ready to die, it comes to you that there’s nothing, nothing but yourself and what you could have done. Only you ain’t done it, because the lies told you there was something else. Then you know you could of had the world, because you’re the only one that knows the secret; only then it’s too late. You’re old.”
It reminded me a bit of Cormac McCarthy that your mom can even read, or think of Moby-Dick, but instead of a white whale, Andrews, Miller, Schneider, and Charley Hoge are seeking an enormous herd of buffalo hidden in valley in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It is a story of death, obsession, nature, destruction, dreams, and the myth of the American West and the Wilderness Myth.
At times 'Butcher's Crossing' also reminded me of the beautiful, dreamy, obsessiveness of Werner Herzog's movies. Nature, in the end, doesn't whimper when you die. Nature often doesn't whimper when it dies. Hell, now I really want Herzog to make this book into a film.
Perfect writing. Perfect narration. Devastatingly perfect story. There may be no better American west novel.
"The incomparable John Williams goes west"
Three such different books -- Augustus, Stoner, and Butcher's Crossing -- all memorable. This one takes the tired western genre and kicks it back up to literary masterpiece, a coming of age tale told with cinematic sweep and exquisite writing. Some sections were so thrilling that I listened 2X. I mean twice, not doublespeed!
"Grim but compelling."
The narration is fine. I listened to this as an admirer of Stoner. This novel is not as good as Stoner, but I appreciated its nihilism.
I read this after reading "Stoner," expecting there was no way this one could be any good. As well-written as this is, you'd consider that it was probably written after Stoner although it was actually written 5 years prior. I am a fan of writers like Hemingway and Steinbeck, and I rank Williams up there with them. Nothing is said but what needs to be said. There's no pussyfooting around with the style. The pacing was perfect on this book. Exactly when I felt things needed to hurry up, they'd leap forward a matter of weeks or months in the storyline. This is a book I will read again at some point in the future.
The narration of this is perfect.
This is a great novel, beautifully written and the plot picks up and gets quite suspenseful. Highly recommended.
I wanted to like it but it just couldn't capture my interest or attention. My mind constantly wandered.
"Took me to the time & place. Then it ended abysmally."
Abrupt ending after fascinating descriptions throughout. It all just fell flat and boring at the very end! Bummed.
"Very slow start, but good story in the end"
Williams descriptive style, so effective in Stoner, is overwrought and overused in this earlier work. The story finally finds its feet about 2/3 through and ends up being worth the slog of the first half. The narrator's volume fluctuations make for difficult clarity and he reads with too much drama and vocal elaboration, which allows too little room for the listeners own interpretation.
This novel is a slow-burner, and that is no bad thing. It's also a far cry from a standard Western novel. There are some moments of action that are well described but this is all about characters, their motivations and a rite of passage for the main protagonist. It's bleak, it's slow paced but it is also very well described and the narrative style fits perfectly.
If you're expecting a standard Western and are looking for John Wayne this isn't the best place but if you're looking for a heartfelt, well written book with strong characters then this should satisfy.
Heart of Darkness set in the prairies...tremendous...I was drawn in utterly...The human spirit and human folly..So it goes...
"Come and witness the banality of an apocalypse"
This is a writer that takes you places you do not want to confront, to memories that have no tinted glass or romanticized consequences, he takes you there and lets you steep yourself in the smell, the blood, the bones and the tendons of his subject, he takes you back to paradise describes it to perfection and shows you how we lost it, how we destroyed that which was not ours; for coins for pride and with not much extrapolation you can see we have learned nothing.
“It came to him that he had turned away from the buffalo not because of a womanish nausea at blood and stench and spilling gut; it came to him that he had sickened and turned away because of his shock at seeing the buffalo, a few moments before proud and noble and full of the dignity of life, now stark and helpless, a length of inert meat, divested of itself, or his notion of itself, swinging grotesquely, mockingly, before him. It was not itself; or it was not that self that he had imagined it to be. That self was murdered; and in that murder he had felt the destruction of something within him, and he had not been able to face it. So he had turned away.”
― John Williams, Butcher's Crossing
Few books dare confront its reader with unblinking truth, few books are as beautifully written as this book is, even fewer can describe so vividly and eloquently as John Williams, he builds in a few pages a West that is vivid and real with characters that walk off the pages and become as real as any man, nature is presented as a force that needs to be respected not just out of fear of its force but because it is also vulnerable to our abuse.
“Young people," McDonald said contemptuously. "You always think there's something to find out."
"Yes, sir," Andrews said.
"Well, there's nothing," McDonald said. "You get born, and you nurse on lies, and you get weaned on lies, and you learn fancier lies in school. You live all your life on lies, and then maybe when you're ready to die, it comes to you — that there's nothing, nothing but yourself and what you could have done. Only you ain't done it, because the lies told you there was something else. Then you know you could of had the world, because you're the only one that knows the secret; only then it's too late. You're too old."
"No," Andrews said. A vague terror crept from the darkness that surrounded them, and tightened his voice. "That's not the way it is."
"You ain't learned, then," McDonald said. "You ain't learned yet. . . .”
― John Williams, Butcher's Crossing
Perhaps I have emphasised what I think or feel this book is about too much, just read it as a western or an adventure and it will not disappoint but beware that westerns will not be the same after reading this book.
"Thoughtful and sensitive western"
Enjoyable and sensitive western. aweful at times but worth the journey. A lighter read than Stoner
"Enjoyable enough but not particularly striking."
I think I expected more from this because I enjoyed Stoner so much. That's not to say that it isn't a pleasant way to spend a few hours but with the story not being that engaging, you may find your attention wavering at points.
"Not for Western lovers"
I found this book boring to listen. There were no characters interesting enough and the story itself was a bit too dull.
What a story. A young man looking for experience and the reason for his existence arrives at Butchers Crossing with the sole purpose to go buffalo hunting. While reading this story the reader will also go buffalo hunting. He will know what it is like to ride for days sore and raw in the saddle, experience great thirst and hunger, heat and cold. This is an amazing descriptive account. Superb writing. The narrator does extremely well too and his American accent lends all the more authenticity.
"The stylish John Williams"
A coming of maturity in a challenging frontier landscape. A good tale of individuals surviving wild nature told with consummate and stylish descriptive prose. Williams’s style lets one taste the landscape that backdrops the unfolding events. An allegory of meaningless slaughter spurred by passing fashion and extinguished by fashion passing.
"Another quietly compelling novel"
This is a novel that sets its clock against the reader's world and insists you go with it, and that is appropriate for a novel devoted to the last moments of a vanished time. The ending, elegiac and moving, is its very point, and well worth reaching, and the novel's slowly involving pace is rewarding and, again, part of what this novel teaches us about time, how we use it and lose it. Williams's novels tell us what we have lost in an age where novels speak down to us and no longer ask us to reach and to adjust ourselves to what they have to say.
"Shows the economic harshness of the untamed west"
Detailed and realistic
The descriptions were detailed and felt accurate and well researched. Some of the attempts to get inside the hero's mind were not so convincing. The performance was excellent in dialogue and slightly mannered in narration. The volume fluctuated, which was a slight nuisance for me listening while driving. More precisely, I would give it between 4 and 5 stars for each category.
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