Butcher's Crossing by John Williams
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 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 paradisal 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.
Butcher's Crossing was such a fun book! I know that might sound odd, especially since it was not a very happy book, but I loved it. The characters were amazing, the situation, the ending, oh it was fun. When everything happens at the end you just cannot help but laugh. Or I couldn't. It is just that everything is so negative it has this absurd amusement to it. It was great.
I started reading this book, but then switched to listening to the audio book off and on. I was busy with some other things, things that made it so I couldn't read, but I didn't want to put the book down. I will say this is the first audio book I have actually listened to and I loved it. It made the story even better if that is possible. The narrator was great and he really brought the characters to life. I will say I never noticed how descriptive the writing was while reading, but listening you can't help but notice it. Usually that is something I do not like, super descriptive writing, but it worked for this story. It worked with the style of writing.
The book opens with Andrews showing up in Butcher's Crossing after traveling from Boston to get there. He has been looking for McDonald, someone his father knew from long ago. Andrews had been attending Harvard College, but headed west to see the open space of the American frontier. He doesn't know exactly what he is looking for, but he wants to experience something he never has before.
Butcher's Crossing is a little nothing town. There are only a few buildings and most of the town is made up of hunters when they are not out hunting. McDonald was kind of hilarious. Really all of the characters were just that - characters. I don't really know why I enjoyed this story so much, but I did. I wouldn't say I like westerns or stories of hunting and killing animals in great detail, which is what this story was, but I really loved it. Andrews shows up in Butcher's Crossing and talks to McDonald. McDonald leads him to talk to Miller, one of the hunters that doesn't have a contract with McDonald. Over drinks in a bar Miller tells Andrews about this giant heard of buffalo that he saw 10 years ago and it will make him a fortune, if only he can find financing for the trip. Andrews, the guy who doesn't really know what he is doing, immediately is intrigued. He has enough money to finance this trip so off Miller goes getting everything together. Miller, Charley Hodge, his friend who lost his one hand to frostbite one winter and is now being taken care of my Miller, Andrews, and Schneider, the experienced skinner, head out to kill the buffalo. Schneider does not really think they will find this mythical place Miller talks of, he is skeptical the whole time.
Really, even after reading the synopsis and seeing they spend the winter in Colorado, I didn't think they would actually make it to Miller's secret spot either. It just didn't seem like they would find the buffalo or that Miller really knew exactly where they would be. Once they do make it the highly descriptive writing was a bit much at times for me. It describes in detail the killing, skinning and dressing of the buffalo. It was hard for me to listen to and read, and it is sad how these hunters are portrayed just going out and killing off all the buffalo without regard to their dwindling numbers, but I still really enjoyed it. Watching them survive the winter and what happens on the way back and when they return to Butcher's Crossing? Amazing. I don't know what it is, I wouldn't say I like Westerns or things like this, but I loved this story.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★