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Butcher's Crossing

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4.13  ·  Rating details ·  14,479 ratings  ·  1,396 reviews
In his National Book Award–winning novel Augustus, John Williams uncovered the secrets of ancient Rome. With Butcher’s Crossing, his fiercely intelligent, beautifully written western, Williams dismantles the myths of modern America.

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
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Paperback, NYRB Classics, 274 pages
Published January 16th 2007 by New York Review Books (first published 1960)
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Margaret I don't think he's doing either. I think he's simply telling a story and because of the details of the time and place, the end of the buffalo, the beg…moreI don't think he's doing either. I think he's simply telling a story and because of the details of the time and place, the end of the buffalo, the beginning of the end of the West as his main character had known and imagined as a child, and confronted in its reality as an adult, that story reveals the full horror of the greed and exploitation that was wrought on the West. But the character can see beyond his experience and continue to move on when the events in the book come to their end. He is a witness and we witness through him. (less)
Helen Jacoby If you can read English well, then read it in English. It's beautifully written. …moreIf you can read English well, then read it in English. It's beautifully written. (less)

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Jeffrey Keeten
Feb 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nyrb, the-old-west
”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.”

Will Andrews bought into the
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Cecily
Why read a historical novel about a privileged Harvard dropout who wants to find himself by going on a buffalo hunt?

1. It's by John Williams, who wrote one of my three favourite novels, Stoner, which I reviewed HERE, as well as his masterpiece, Augustus, which I reviewed HERE.

2. Hunting is not what it's really about (probably like Moby Dick?).

3. It was a good follow-on from Cold Mountain, which I reviewed HERE: two totally different US landscape-based stories, set only a few years apart.

What Th
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Dolors
Jun 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Beware of Westerns
Shelves: read-in-2015
Williams’ biggest achievement in this novel is that there isn’t an ounce of overblown characterization in the diverging life perspectives that populate Butcher's Crossing, an emerging town in the Great Plains of the old west. In spite of the bison hunters, the dusty brothel with the purring prostitute, the inexperienced city boy Will Andrews from Boston, and the drunkard who nurses his whiskey with a mucky Bible and prayerful gibberish, this is not the predictable Western the reader might antici ...more
Swaroop
Mar 07, 2021 marked it as to-review
"Like the kaleidoscope, they augmented themselves with their turning and found light from irrelevant and accidental sources."



"there he hesitated for a moment, to turn first one way and another, as the needle of a compass, slow to settle, discovers its point."

"He believed - and had believed for a long time - that there was a subtle magnetism in nature, which, if he unconsciously yielded to it, would direct him alright."
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Zoeytron
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: public-library
The bright flare of a match, the creaking of saddle leather, and the mournful lowing of the oxen. The smell of scorched coffee permeates the air, joining the stink of buffalo hunters too long on the trail. Later, the confusion of the herd is rampant amidst the air made hazy and heavy by gun smoke. The force of nature takes its toll, as it always will. The horror of the elements, and the sheer beauty.

I searched for this book based solely on the fact that the author is the man who penned Stoner. E
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Lynne King
Andrews dropped to his hands and knees and swung his head from side to side like a wounded animal. “My God!” he said thickly, “My God, my God”.

“A whole winter’s work,” Miller said in a flat dead voice. “It took just about two minutes.”

“Andrews raised his head wildly, and got to his feet. “Schneider,” he said. “Schneider. We’ve got to-”

“Miller put his hand on his shoulder. “Take it easy, boy. Won’t do no good to worry about Schneider.”

I went to bed last night still thinking about
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Howard
John Williams wrote four novels. None of them, however, sold many copies during his lifetime. I remember some years ago seeing and scanning stories about John Williams with headlines such as “The Best Writer You Never Heard Of,” or something similar. And that certainly applied to me. I had never heard of him, and I couldn’t read his books because they were out of print. In fact, although there were critics who praised his work his books sold few copies before disappearing – literally in some cas ...more
Darwin8u
Feb 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: aere-perennius, 2015
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.

(view spoiler)
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Ted
… he believed - and had believed for a long time - that there was a subtle magnetism in nature, which, if he unconsciously yielded to it, would direct him aright … (48)

buffalo-herd-2

Now Andrews could see the herd clearly. Against the pale yellow-green of the grass, the dark umber of the buffalo stood out sharply … Many were lying at ease upon the soft valley grass; those were mere humps, like dark rocks, without identity or shape … some were grazing lightly, others stood unmoving, they huge furry heads s
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Jessaka
Oct 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: western
"A cold wind blew across the prairie when the last buffalo fell..... a death wind for my people."
~~Sitting Bull

They came down into valley, and the buffalo herds were moving darkly over the land like waves on the ocean. The men slowly moved in on them. The first shot went to kill the leader of the herd, more shots would follow. My mind stopped. The buffalo just stood there in wonder of what was going on, and one by one they were killed.
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Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Feb 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013, favorites

One of the joys of reading chaotically, picking up books from the TBR stack at the whim of the moment and not according to some master plan, is to discover that succesive reads turn out to be related after all. The Great Gatsby is concerned with the Great American Dream - that success is waiting right around the corner for anyone determined enough to reach for it. Butcher's Crossing is about another facet of the Great American Dream, the myth of the pristine land, a Garden of Eden where Man
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Cathrine ☯️
Oct 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: group-challenge
5★
In his third year at Harvard, Will Andrews leaves his studies to go west. After hearing a lecture by Ralph Waldo Emerson his quest is to find and experience his “unadulterated self.” The year is 1873 as he arrives in Butcher’s Crossing Colorado. He decides to fund a buffalo hunt as a way “to see as much of the country as I can. . . I want to get to know it.” I picture that scene in Dances With Wolves when the character played by Kevin Costner relates that he wants to see the West before it is
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ἀρχαῖος (arkhaîos) In Lockdown
Wonderful book. Read it. Americana at its best. "Stoner" was a book that made me look into my life as I am. "Butcher's Crossing" took me back to my youth when I wandered, and lived in my tent in the mountains, became lost in a snow storm in the North. But more than anything it took me back to this:

"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 halfwa
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Charles
Mar 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
I had read Stoner in 2017, then Augustus earlier this year, in 2021. To finally have read Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams makes my little literary expedition complete: I’ve now gone full circle.

While you could argue that reading an author’s production in chronological order has a value all its own, I find that 1) there was no need in this case, as the three novels share no connection, either plotwise or otherwise, and 2) sometimes nothing accentuates contrast better than moving backwards to
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Ken
Aug 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: finished-in-2010
Penned in 1960, John Williams' BUTCHER'S CROSSING anticipates and in many ways eclipses Cormac McCarthy's western works because it not only nails the rapacious greed of the buffalo hunters it describes, it reaches for more abstract and troubling themes that go to the very essence of man and his place in the world.

Will Andrews, the protagonist, is but a 23-year-old preacher's son when he shows up in Butcher's Crossing with money and a dream in hand. He winds up payrolling a buffalo hunt to a hidd
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Diane Barnes
Sep 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I started this book thinking I was getting into an adventure/survivalist tale of buffalo hunters in the old west. I turned the last page knowing that, instead, it was an epic tragedy. If you can read this book without having your stomach turned at the senseless slaughter of these animals, you're a stronger person than I am.

"A long, narrow valley, flat as the top of a table, wound among the mountains. Lush grass grew on the bed of the valley, and waved gently in the breeze as far as the eye coul
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Parthiban Sekar
Oct 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-lit, owned
Bulls-eye:
After reading this book, I have felt myself becoming one of those naive victims from this story. At first, I was unaware of what is going to happen amidst the scurry behind shrubs and rocks, and the constant thuds of distant hooves. I was slowly made to believe that everything is normal without knowing what lies beneath. I suppose that I was taken for granted.

Eventually, there was this strange feeling of foreign intervention which made me question my own existence and my very own purp
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Patrick
May 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I enjoyed this sparse and dark novel set in Kansas and Colorado in the period after the Civil War.Strong characterisation and very atmospheric.This is Moby Dick brought to a rapidly changing American West.A precursor to the novels of Cormac McCarthy.
Tony
Nov 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
People, here and elsewhere, are agrief over the most recent national election. A common question is, "How could this happen?" For the handful of people who are not asking that question rhetorically, I could reply "I don't know" or I could attempt a lengthy answer about how the choice meant different things to different people, different oxen being gored. I'd never finish the longer answer. In the unlikely event that the first or second explanation didn't cause a disagreement, eventually ennui wo ...more
Krista
May 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
He believed – and had believed for a long time – that there was a subtle magnetism in nature; which if he unconsciously yielded to it, would direct him aright, not indifferent to the way he walked. But he felt that only during the few days that he had been in Butcher’s Crossing had nature been so purely presented to him that its power of compulsion was sufficiently strong to strike through his will, his habit, and his idea. He turned west, his back toward Butcher’s Crossing and the town and c
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Ron
May 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics, own, western
There are parts of Butcher's Crossing that remind me of another book or story, or maybe it is actual history I think of. It's the “go west, young man”, kind of saying that you've probably heard at some point yourself. The young man's name in this story is Andrews. His reasoning at this time in his life is the same as many others have been and will be: abandon the former life and future for the open and untamed West that calls to him. My synopsis of Andrews' initial plight is quite up to par to h ...more
Betsy Robinson
Aug 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing

In the 1870s, Will Andrews, a young man fresh out of three years at Harvard College, travels west and, with a band of hunters, heads further west in search of buffalo because he is seeking Nature (intentional capital “N”).
Andrews felt that the mountains drew them onward, and drew them with increasing intensity as they came nearer, as if they were a giant lodestone whose influence increased to the degree that it was more nearly approached. As they came nearer he had again the feeling that he was
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Håkon
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Rating 86/100


John Williams' prose is simple and sharp and meaningful. His imagery is vivid. You can almost hear the horse hooves and the Wagon creaking in the ground as they travel through Colorado. I once watched a video essay on the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, the Russian filmmaker, in which the essayist argued that Tarkovsky's strength lied in texture and sound. I think this is very much the case with Butcher's Crossing as well.

It's an American western about human greed, about destruction, abo
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Himanshu
Nov 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: want-to-live-in
Reading this book was like watching an archer shoot an arrow but in an ultra slow motion.

Like watching those eyes squint at the target, the shooting arm pulling back the arrow while slowly building up the power in the tightening muscles, keeping the spectator transfixed and waiting for the moment of truth. And then it comes. The release of the arrow sans any blasting sound. Swoosh. Bull's eye.

Yep, John Williams can pull a punch. That too with glorious simplicity. You realize later that you have
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Michael
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The book that can disabuse anyone of the "romance" of the Western. A haunting and brilliant book. ...more
Sarah Funke
Apr 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
Anything that's prefaced by a quotation from Melville's The Confidence Man is ok by me. This one, by the author of Stoner, owes a lot more to Melville than that -- from Transcendental meditations to musings on "white," not to mention the monomania of a man on a hunt (like Gatsby, come to think of it, but broader, and deeper, and colder/wetter, and hotter/thirstier). This is Moby-Dick in the early American west, with many, many buffalo instead of a single whale, and set very very much on land. Wi ...more
Matthew
178th book of 2020.

Williams had a way of dissecting things, and he didn’t always dissect it nicely; he made messy incisions into the meaning of life and what its purpose is, he has made me both despondent and hopeful. There’s something wonderful about Williams’ cynicism. Perhaps it takes a cynic to say that.

description
John Williams—Photo from the Financial Times

Butcher’s Crossing is a novel set in the 1860s/1870s about a Harvard student (Will Andrews) looking for something inside himself. To this, he deci
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Toby
Apr 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit, western
John 'Stoner' Williams' bleak and unromantic portrait of the great myth of the Western Frontier is a hard edged read designed to repulse the reader with its content whilst wallowing in the majesty of nature. It's no mean feat to capture such beauty and such horror in one novel with equal skill and success, in doing so Williams confirms his place in my heart as one the greats of American letters, and if justice is served all of us who care for the careful consideration of how one word follows ano ...more
TBV (on semi-hiatus)
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Is the sighting of large herds of buffalo on a hidden track nine or ten years previously good enough reason to set off on a buffalo killing expedition? Miller thinks so, and young Andrews is keen to join, and he needs no persuading to both invest money and join as learner skinner. But this is no simple adventure story.

Why is Miller, leader of the expedition, so obsessed with finding this herd and killing every single bison in it? Why does the fanatically religious Charley tag along almost agains
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Tracey
 I started this review during my reading of the book and it is just a list of thoughts, feelings and emotions really but I'll go with it because that's how it is.

1870s Kansas The wild west home to Prospectors, Buffalos and buffalo hunters Butchers crossing, a small place, appears to be there specifically for the needs of the buffalo hunters to return to ,to sell the hides of those majestic animals.

William Andrews is the main protagonist . Andrews wishes to have experiences closer to nature, and
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

John Edward Williams, Ph.D. (University of Missouri, 1954; M.A., University of Denver, 1950; B.A., U. of D., 1949), enlisted in the USAAF early in 1942, spending two and a half years as a sergeant in India and Burma. His first novel, Nothing But the Night, was published in 1948, and his first volume of poems, Th
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“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. . . .”
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“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 its self, 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.” 18 likes
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