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 the almost as good 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 This Is and Is Not This is a road movie without the road, the car, or the film cameras It s a Western without cows, cowboys or indians native Americans It s a character based story but the main characters don t speak or move because they re the landscape and weather It s about big beasts, big wilderness, big ambitions, some big characters but it often focuses on the minutest details of how things looks, sound, and feel see quotes near the end It s about quests and dreams of meaning for one of wealth for another aspects have a mythical air but harsh reality dominates, and it s not the standard American Dream of wealth success, fame, power It s a coming of age story or bildungsroman except that the end of the journey seemslike the beginning of Will s growing up It s about life finding purpose in it, as well as basic survival but there s bloody death and butchery.If it seems a slightly surprising subject for a quiet professor of literature to write about, his wife explains that he lived in the West, loved the landscape, and liked camping He didn t hunt buffalo See this interview with Nancy Gardner Williams HERE.Landscape He believed there was a subtle magnetism in nature, which if he unconsciously yielded to it, would direct him aright I often seek quiet landscapes for solace, thinking, escape preferably woodland I like to listen and touch I m not brave or reckless enough to go anywhere really wild, and although I eat meat, I m no hunter Nevertheless, I can relate to underlying theme of this storythan I expected.Will Andrews heads west, not to make his fortune, but to find meaning in his life The landscape quickly has a profound effect, though it doesn t really clarify things for him He longs for the distant mountains but did not know precisely what hunger or thirst they would assuage How many of us long vaguely for something, without being sure how or if it will fix things After only a month away from Boston, he barely remembers home, which seems in a very distant time The image would not stay with him Unreal, it thinned like brown fog He quickly feels at home in the tiny settlement of Butcher s Crossing, but yearns to go further, into the wilderness in a hint of the distant horizon he sees his own undiscovered nature.As he travels, he comes to identify with his surroundings, He felt himself to be like the land, without identity or shape He has the feeling that he was being absorbed and promised a richness and a fulfilment for which he had no name After only a few weeks, He had been here in the high valley for all of that part of his life that mattered He could not think of himself outside of where he was Is this peace or an unhealthy form of disassociation But what s it all for When they eventually leave the valley, after much hardship, Will felt vaguely that he would be leaving something behind, something that might have been precious to him, had he been able to know what it was This thwarting of uncertain ambitions, this lack of resolution, reminded me of Stoner.Faith, Religion, RitualDoes everyone need faith in something I m not sure I don t think I have faith in anything much , but that s the suggestion here Charley Hoge, the waggon driver, has a simple but profound faith in the words of his dog eared Bible, and a fair amount of faith in Miller, the experienced buffalo hunter Miller s faith is also in Miller his vast experience of the beasts and their environment Schneider, the skinner, has faith in his own experience, so it s no surprise that he and Miller don t always agree McDonald, the hide trader, has hope of future prosperity when the railroad comes through town Will is the faithless one the son of a preacher who pressed Emersonthan God on his son That is surely why Will now seeks answers in the wilderness, and why the reality of their journey lay in the routine detail a ritual,andmeaningless as it was repeated, but a ritual which nevertheless gave his life the only shape it now had.There is also a ritualistic aspect to the hunting, killing, and skinning a rhythm in Miller s slaughter Like a dance, a thunderous minuet created by the wildness that surrounded it Does that make it somehow sacred, or profane and greedy If my Biblical knowledge were closer to Charley s than Will s, I d probably spot , but wilderness is significant in the Christian story, and just as Genesis has a six day creation, Miller s preparation for the journey is six days, as it the first leg of it after which, they are literally off the beaten track.I m not sure if it s the author s intention, but you could easily sermonise along the lines of the perils of chasing material gain, versus the importance of searching for deeper truth.TransformationFrom the most ancient myths and stories, physical journeys have paralleled personal journeys of transformation That is true here not just of Will, but even the characters who are used to venturing out for weeks on end.There are the obvious physical transformations from weeks in the saddle, then the hard labour of hunting and skinning etc, but the psychological changes are greatest, and most profound As things get tougher, each man has to wrestle his own demons, as well as the other men, and the conditions in which they re living, travelling and, hopefully, surviving physically and mentally He thought at times that he as moving into a new body, or into a real body that had lain hidden beneath unreal layers of softness and whiteness and smoothness Later, these feelings are echoed when he loses his virginity SurvivalIf you like survival stories, there s plenty here They travel in uncharted territory, where only one of them has been before, and that was ten years earlier They have supplies, but need to make them last, and can t ever go too far from water The terrain and weather are always a risk, as is the greed of trying to get just a fewhides.Seeing this Through Other EyesSome books are so deep or strange, they inspire hugely varied and very creative reviews This is, in some ways, a very simple story, but I was struck by the variety of my friends reviews they are almost all 4 or 5 , but the themes and ideas the pick out are remarkably diverse I think that indicates how much depth there is beneath the surface.I think this could make a wonderful film but only in the rights hands It needs to focus on careful shots of the landscape, rather than wild west clich s enormous vistas, as well as careful light, highlighting details close up Stephen Poliakoff would be perfect, though in 2010, Sam Mendes was reported to be adapting it He s made some excellent films, but I m not sure I d want to see his version of this.Descriptions of Minute DetailsThis is also a notable feature of his first disowned novel, Nothing But The Night, HERE He became aware that his hands were tightly clenched the tips of his fingers slipped in the moisture of his palms Flat lines of sweat ran through the glinting beads of moisture that stood out on his forehead, and ran into his tangled eyebrows He noticed the minute beads of sweat that stood out distinctly above her full lip and caught the sunlight like tiny crystals The rich buffalo grass changed its color throughout the day in the morning, in the pinkish rays of the early sun, it was nearly gray in the yellow light of the midmorning sun, it was a brilliant green at noon it took on a bluish cast in the afternoon, in the intensity of the sun, at a distance, the blades lost their individual character and through the green showed a distinct cast of yellow, so that when a light breeze whipped across, a living color seemed to run through the grass, to disappear and reappear from moment to moment In the evening after the sun had gone down, the grass took on a purplish hue as if it absorbed all the light from the sky and would not give it back When he inserted the rod into the breech of the barrel the hot metal hissed, and the drops of water that got on the outside of the barrel danced for a moment on the blued metal and disappeared He heard nothing save the soft whistling of the wind around his ears, which were beginning to tingle from the coolness The southern reaches of the valley were softening in a faint mist that was coming down from the mountains the sunlit white vapor twisted and coiled upon itself before a thrusting wind that was not felt on the ground here in the valley The mountainside was a riot of varied shade and hue He thought that if he listened he could hear the sound of growth the fragrant air, spiced with the odor of crushed pine needles and musty from the slow decay that worked upward from the earth Other Quotes It was 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 What he sought was the source and preserver of his world, a world which seemed to turn ever in fear away from its source She was a presence which assuaged a need in him that he barely knew he had, until the need was met Caught in the ugliness of sleep defenceless in the innocence of sleep he had never seen a part of her that he was seeing now It wasn t you, it was me Published in 1960 Williams Four Novels, ComparedSee the end of my review of his first disowned novel, Nothing But The Night, HERE. 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 Ended up finding a copy at an out of state library, courtesy of Mobius After reading, I had to stifle a snort at the tag on the spine of the book It sports a label categorizing it as a Western and topped with a picture of a cowboy hat This novel is so muchThe author is a veritable virtuoso with his deceptively simple writing. TERRA DI CONFINE Pubblicato nel 1960, cinque anni prima di Stoner , e ambientato intorno al 1870 tra Kansas e Colorado, tra prateria e montagne, Butcher s Crossing il romanzo western per antonomasia, il paradigma del western, tutto quello che ci si aspetta da un western Open Range Terra di confine il bel film western del 2003 diretto e interpretato da Kevin Costner.In pi c l enorme talento di questo scrittore, che non spreca parole e neppure le lesina, le cerca con precisione che rimane nascosta, le organizza con perizia e pacatezza, con potere evocativo e incredibile capacit descrittiva e fa centro, come un grande tiratore, come i migliori cacciatori di quell epoca.In questo modo, un western diventa una storia mitologica, mistica, archetipica, senza tempo, universale.Questa come quelle che seguono sono immagini della celebre scena di caccia al bufalo del film Balla coi lupi diretto e interpretato da Kevin Costner nel 1990, vincitore di ben 7 premi Oscar.Un libro che avrebbe potuto non finire mai, la trama, per quanto ben strutturata, non certo l asse portante, l obiettivo principale.Un libro che avrei voluto non finisse mai.Un romanzo che potrebbe anche essere migliore di Stoner ma si tratta di due capolavori, difficile dire quale vince, una bella lotta.La prateria, gli zoccoli, i fili d erba, gli argini di fiumi e torrenti, la pelle che si arrossa e indurisce, i muscoli dei cavalli, le ruote del carro la sete, la fatica, il caldo, la sensazione di essere al capolinea l approdo, il focolare, il whiskey e il caff , come si arrota un coltello e come si prepara una cartuccia, come si costruisce un recinto o un capanno, come si lega un cavallo e poi la caccia la natura prevedibile e quella imprevedibile, la natura mite e quella selvaggia E con la stessa pacatezza Williams racconta un massacro, una lunghissima scena d apocalisse, piena di sangue e polvere, come se fossimo nelle trincee della Prima Guerra Mondiale.Il sogno di Miller forse di essere pi grande di dio Perch , questi cacciatori sembrano interessati quasi pi ai sogni che alla selvaggina, sono dreamhunters, la caccia soprattutto a quello che sembra irraggiungibile Da Ulisse in poi lo sappiamo bene, il vero ritorno a casa impossibile la Butcher s Crossing che ritrovano molto diversa da quella che hanno lasciato, non solo perch il tracciato della ferrovia stato spostato 50 miglia pi in l e non toccher pi l abitato, non solo perch la pelle di bisonte non ha pi acquirenti Il ventenne protagonista, probabile discepolo di Ralph Waldo Emerson, citato in epigrafe, ha lasciato Boston, il mondo civilizzato e ordinato, ha lasciato l universit di Harvard, per cercare un altra scuola e per scoprire il West, la frontiera, per scoprire se stesso.Capisce che la natura da e toglie, proprio come la vita che fare l a pi facile del previsto le sue scoperte sono tante, ed enormi, ma non sono sicuro che riescano a racchiudere tutta la sua solitudine, e la sua inquietudine.Dopo Melville, prima di Cormac McCarthy, Williams sa costruire un romanzo di formazione, e un romanzo epico, con la stessa tranquillit e naturalezza dell artigiano che ha compiuto gli stessi gesti da sempre, e col talento degli artisti. 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 anticipate Clich s are exploited to serve the story, not employed to construct it An omniscient narrator delves deep into the psychological dimension of the characters who grope in the darkness of their beings in search of answers to questions not even formulated In spite of their disparate temperaments, the four men share the common bond of confronting their insignificance in relation to the impassive grandeur of the natural world Contrasted experience, mental strength and resilience prove to be useless when nature serves as mirror to the men s obsessions, ignored fears and misconceptions, a mirror that reflects their most savage selves William s prose is unsparing, brutal, jagged There isn t a trace of sentimentality in the crude lyricism of his sparsely constructed sentences, yet one will detect something deeply touching in the icy narrative voice that plucks the petals, one after another, slow and steady, of Will s blossoming innocence Or is it immaturity Driven by his need to fill the empty void that is festering inside him, he escapes the viciousness of civilization to experience a moment of self revelation embraced by the purity of Mother Nature What he finds instead terrifies his tender, trusting disposition An alien, murderous drive built on numbing detachment, absurd carnage, gratuitous suffering When Will s journey comes to an end, he emerges as a different person, his restlessness has dissipated and a sobering calmness has taken possession of his being The idealistic youth has been substituted for a man who finally accepts he cannot escape himself, a man who feels comfortable with his emptiness like the reader has grown used to hearing the unwritten echo of silence and to appreciate the chilly texture of the color white.This is an unorthodox bildungsromanthan a Western and John Williams discovers that Ace up his sleeve at a carefully studied pace The claustrophobic sensation that emanates from his writing could easily be compared to the one provoked by the infinity of open space, that of frosty snow covering the earth and night and day becoming an unbearable succession of blinding darkness and blinding whiteness and the maddening impression of being locked in the small boundaries of our diminutive, suffocating consciousness But whose consciousness What is hidden underneath the characters frenzy to tame the wild, to put down the unconquerable, but the projection of the American Spirit Will s infantile desire to experience a sort of epiphanic oneness with Nature is the story of a young country ruling history that is seeking to reaffirm its ethos by fighting its foe, mindless of the consequences, heedless of the fact that what remains after massive butchery is the putrid stench of blank stares and vacant eyed slaughterers.So yes, many might consider this book a Western but I insist it might easily be something else Quite something else, indeed. Es War Um , Als Will Andrews Der Aussicht Auf Eine Gl Nzende Karriere Und Harvard Den R Cken Kehrt Befl Gelt Von Der Naturauffassung Ralph W Emersons, Sucht Er Im Westen Nach Einer Urspr Nglichen Beziehung Zur Natur In Butcher S Crossing, Einem Kleinen St Dtchen In Kansas, Am Rande Von Nirgendwo, Wimmelt Es Von Rastlosen M Nnern, Die Das Abenteuer Suchen Und Schnell Verdientes Geld Ebenso Schnell Wieder Vergeuden Einer Von Ihnen Lockt Andrews Mit Geschichten Von Riesigen B Ffelherden, Die, Versteckt In Einem Entlegenen Tal Tief In Den Colorado Rockies, Nur Eingefangen Werden M Ssten Andrews Schlie T Sich Einer Expedition An, Mit Dem Ziel, Die Tiere Aufzusp Ren Die Reise Ist Aufreibend Und Strapazi S, Aber Am Ende Erreichen Die M Nner Einen Ort Von Paradiesischer Sch Nheit Doch Statt Von Ehrfurcht Werden Sie Von Gier Ergriffen Und Entfesseln Eine Trag Die Ein Roman Dar Ber, Wie Man Im Leben Verliert Und Was Man Dabei Gewinnt 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 SchneiderI went to bed last night still thinking about this remarkable book I put it on the bedside table and I vaguely recall thinking about buffalo as I slowly slid into the lost world of dreams I awoke at 3 am and was so wide awake in fact that I made myself a black coffee with honey, slowly opened the doors to the terrace and stood there looking at the Pyrenean mountain range My much beloved mountains but one that I would soon leave Time was relentlessly moving on Thoughts of this book like a stampede of horses took over my mind I didn t want to let go and only wished to remain on this mesmerizing carousel moving at death defying speed, while a kaleidoscope of exquisite and yet horrifying images flashed by All the elements were present, superimposed with the colours white and red It was surrealistic.This isn t just a story about a young man, Will Andrews who leaves Harvard to go west and in fact to find himself but it is also about all aspects of nature and how it has such a profound and important place in our everyday existence And the reason why Andrews was taking this trip in 1873 was not because of buffalo which were really in vogue at that time but because he had become very influenced at college by a lecture given by Ralph Waldo Emerson This would prove to be a divine calling inways than one 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 cities that lay eastward beyond it he walked past the clump of cottonwoods toward the river he had not seen but which had assumed in his mind the proportions of a vast boundary that lay between himself and the wildness and freedom that his instinct sought.I really don t believe that Andrews knew what he was letting himself in for when he headed west in 1873 He had money in his pocket and in no time after his arrival at Butcher s Crossing, a small Kansas town in the back of beyond, he had met Mr McDonald who bought and sold buffalo hides Andrews father had given him a letter of introduction to McDonald as he knew him in Boston through the church He thought perhaps that Andrews could help McDonald out in his business This isn t for Andrews though and his whole purpose of being there is to get out into the country and so he s told to contact Miller, a buffalo hunter He also met Francine, a prostitute who teaches him a thing or two and he sees her again upon his return.So the upshot is that with Andrew s finance, Miller agrees to lead an expedition to the mountain country, in the Colorado territory where he was convinced buffalo were to be found Fred Schneider comes as the skinner and Miller s religious sidekick Charley Hoge will be driving the wagon with a team of oxen and will be the camp man.So this epic journey begins We are involved here with four individuals, who are all so different and the clash of personalities soon begins when they cannot find water The attention to detail here is remarkable They then get lost but finally find the hidden valley with five thousand buffalo.I was however surprised with the ease with which Miller shot them Very few stampedes and I was hoping at one stage that perhaps he would be injured in one of them I really felt for the buffalo The detail about skinning of the animals just seemed to slip into the fabric of the book as if it were a normal daily occurrence It had a dreamlike quality to it.This was meant to be a short trip but Miller seemed to turn into an individual who was possessed and wanted to shoot the entire herd Such slaughter Due to this, the men are delayed and nature steps in with all her majestic glory They end up being snowed in for eight months However, this certainly wasn t a boring life regardless of this being a case of survival with all of its hardships Recriminations begin to fly from Schneider and even the bible loving Hoge starts complaining The latter had recently been taking to the bottle and his bible readings were becomingandfrequent.But upon their journey back to Butcher s Crossing, the fast flowing river decides to take and take it did What an incredible episode here.The consummate beauty of Williams exquisite writing flows continuously throughout this work.In essence this is a relatively simple story for a western I expected cowboys and Indians for some obscure reason and there was only one reference made to Indians.NeverthelessButcher s Crossing is very much the Wild West, although a west on the brink of change The railroad is coming, it is said, and there are fewer and fewer buffalo about and the few Indians left are not worth bothering with Still, all the familiar elements remain the rough hewn men, the choice in the bar of either beer or gut rot whiskey, and the hooker with the heart of gold.This is a splendid book and I love it as I do Stoner These two books are perfect I ve never come across this before and to see how due to Williams style of writing, we have here a western of such exceptional quality that it will no doubt stay around for a long time And the next book for me Augustus of course I have ordered it and I should imagine that I will soon be reading my third perfect book. A Holocaust of HidesHe 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 It was that nothingness of which McDonald had spoken back in the sleeping house as he stood beneath the lantern that flickered weakly against the darkness it was the bright blue emptiness of Charley s Hoge s stare, into which he had glimpsed and of which he had tried to tell Francine it was the contemptuous look that Schneider had given the river just before the hoof had blamed his face it was the blind enduring set of Miller s face before the white drive of the storm in the mountains it was the hollow glint in Charley Hoge s eyes, when Charley Hoge turned from the dying fire to follow Miller into the night it was the open despair that ripped McDonald s face into a lived mask during his frenzied pursuit of Miller in the holocaust of the hides it was what he saw now in Francine s sleeping face that sagged inertly on her pillow hide spoiler 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 48Now 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 slumped between their forelegs, which were so matted with long dark fur that their shapes could not be seen 127without identity or shape their shapes could not be seen Butcher s Crossing is usually classified as a Western , I guess because of its setting in Western Kansas and the mountains of Colorado, in the 1870s But this background produces, in Williams telling, a story that has little resemblance to either traditional orcontemporary western literature from authors like Zane Gray, Max Brand, Louis L Amour, Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy or novels such as The Ox Bow Incident or Shane The story has no cowboys, almost no Indians, no settlers, no ranchers, no gunfights, no sheriffs, no bandits.So if you re in the mood for a Western novel a la McMurtry or Cormac, look elsewhere You won t find it here.What you will find is a haunting, mysterious story of an Easterner who has come to the American West, for reasons that are not clear to him It is a short but deep novel, unforgettable, and maybe somewhat disturbing.Will Andrews has left Harvard in his third year, with his share of an uncle s bequest, and traveled to the American West, in search of a man who his father knew for a time back in Boston, a man named McDonald When he manages to track McDonald down in Butcher s Crossing Kansas, McDonald is engaged in a buffalo hide business, buying from buffalo hunters and reselling to buffalo robe makers in the east Andrews tells McDonald that his father admired him because McDonald was the only man he ever knew who came out here who came west, and made a life for himself 18 As they talk, Andrews paused and let his gaze go past McDonald, away from the town, beyond the ridge of earth that he imagined was the river bank, to the flat yellowish green land that faded into the horizon westward He tried to shape in his mind what he had to say to McDonald What he sought was the source and preserver of his world, a world that seemed to turn ever in fear away from its source, rather than search it out, as the prairie grass around him sent down its fibered roots into the rich dark dampness, the Wildness, and thereby renewed itself, year after year 21 But McDonald is simply a stepping stone to the West Andrews has no interest in a job which McDonald offers him, he s searching for something else As he haltingly explains to McDonald, I came out here to see as much of the country as I can I want to get to know it It s something that I have to doI don t have anything figured out I just want to knowabout this country 22 3 Besides Andrews and McDonald, there are only four other named characters in the novel Miller, the buffalo hunter Charley Hoge, Miller s sidekick and the hunting party s wagon driver and cook Francine, an attractive whore in Butcher s Crossing who is in turn attracted to Andrews and Schneider, the final member of the hunting party, hired as chief skinner Oh yes, and one , probably the most important other than Andrews Nature Call her Mother if you want.Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, and Transcendentalism Williams has placed two quotations directly following the title page, before we see a word of his own writing The first of these says At the gates of the forest, the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish The knapsack of custom falls off his back with the first step he takes into these precincts Here is sanctity which shames our religions, and reality which discredits our heroes Here we find Nature to be the circumstance which dwarfs every other circumstance, and judges like a god all men that come to her.The quote is from an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson titled Nature view spoiler See part XVIII of this PDF hide spoiler 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 cases into the trash bin of history.He received his greatest, but fleeting, publicity when his epistolary novel set in ancient Rome, Augustus, won the National Book Award in 1973 But it didn t sell many copies either.Fast forward to 2013 A dramatic change occurred when the New York Review of Books NYRB re issued Stoner, a novel about a quiet, unassuming, and in many ways, forgettable professor teaching literature at the University of Missouri, which had originally been published in 1965 Suddenly, everyone had heard of John Williams, at least those who read books He had become an overnight success almost a half century after he had written the book and almost two decades after his death.A year later, NYRB re issued Augustus However, these were not the first Williams novels to be re issued by NYRB The first was Butcher s Crossing, originally published in 1960, and re issued by NYRB in 2007 It had not attracted the readership that Stoner did six years later, but it benefited from the popularity of that novel, even to the point that Butcher s Crossing is now in development as a movie.The town of Butcher s Crossing is a rag tag collection of shacks and shanties located on the Kansas prairie In the late 1870 s, its primary commercial activity is the collection and shipment of buffalo hides to the east Will Andrews, a young Bostonian imbued with the teachings of Emerson and Thoreau, drops out of Harvard College and travels west in a quest for well, for something that he can t quite explain, but obviously includes a search for self In some ways he pursues a course opposite to that of Stoner while Stoner deserted nature the farm for academia, Andrews deserts academia for nature.Eventually, because he wants to take part in a buffalo hunt, and because he has some money, Andrews agrees to bankroll a hunt led by an experienced hunter named Miller To assist the enterprise Miller hires Charley Hoge, a one handed, whiskey swilling, Bible thumper to serve as teamster and camp cook and Schneider, an experienced skinner Young Andrews main job will be to assist Schneider, even though he knows nothing about skinning animals, but is expected to learn.I m not going to divulge anyof the plot, because I don t want to be guilty of spoilers and because it s too damn difficult to do anyway But I will tell you that the passage across the arid western Kansas and eastern Colorado plains almost ends the hunt even before the hunters arrive in the Colorado Rockies where Miller is certain a huge buffalo herd will be found in a valley that he visited years before The hunters find the herd but they tarry too long in the Rockies and have to spend the winter there Winter in the Rockies means snow a lot of it and as a result the hunters find themselves engaging in another battle of survival against the forces of nature.Just as it is impossible to explain in a brief summary why Stoner is such a great novel, so it is with Butcher s Crossing It is a western novel No, that s not right It is a novel set in the west Despite the fact that the story is populated by many stock characters even the prostitute with the requisite heart of gold they are overcome by a pared down, austere, but clear and vivid prose that contains no gimmicks or grammatical games Joanne Greenberg, who is best known for her bookI Never Promised You a Rose Garden, knew Williams and admired his talent long before most of the rest of us even had a clue She was quoted as saying that Williams wrote like a Shaker would ski without a wasted motion Perfect I wish I had thought of that.Anyone looking to read a traditional western in the mainstream of the genre needs to look elsewhere This is a book that sharesin common with Melville s Moby Dick than anything ever written by Louis L Amour If, on the other hand, you are an admirer of Cormac McCarthy, than this book would likely appeal to you Butcher s Crossing is a novel that turns upside down the expectations of the genre and goes to war with a century of American triumphalism, a century of rejuvenation through violence, a century of senseless slaughter John Plotz, The GuardianThe finest western ever written Oakley Hall, author of WarlockThe West never existed It s a dream of the East John Williams A cold wind blew across the prairie when the last buffalo fell. a death wind for my people Sitting BullThey 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,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.
Librarian Note There is 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
- 368 pages
- Butcher's Crossing
- John Williams
- 12 May 2019 John Williams