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August 25, 2014

At some point, birthdays probably shouldn't mean much.  But Cake Day, now that's another matter! 

Time for a short book review, this time it is Butcher's Crossing by John Williams (link to Amazon).  This is my final novel by this great author, he only penned 3 of them during his lifetime with each being so entirely different that you could hardly imagine it was the same writer.  When I first discovered John Williams, I read the novel Stoner- a book about  life of a boy who is born on a farm but goes on to become a professor of English.  He's a tortured soul, both in personal and professional life.  We live his life through his thoughts.  The second novel, Augustus, was written in the epistolary form,  meaning the story is told through fictional letters and memoirs.   This is the fictional (but based on fact) life story of Augustus, emperor of Rome.

With Butcher's Crossing, John Williams penned a western novel, of all things.  Now normally I would just skip a western, I'm not much of a fan of this type of fiction.  But Williams was not the usual writer and that proved to be true, all the cliches and predictable scenes of the TV westerns were all left out and therefore we are left with a very believable depiction of life at that time.  The book is largely about a buffalo hunt that occurs when there are not many buffalo left.  The time period is when the west is standing at the cusp of change, when all of the old wild west is just about to disappear.   Will Andrews is a college age young man who comes from Boston with a bit of money on him, he appears to us as largely citified but feels he is missing something in life.  He has come to experience the west and the brutal nature of it while he can.   He finds that in a buffalo hunt that he finances through a man he meets in Butcher's Crossing who claims to know where a secret hidden valley lies that is full of buffalo.  This is one, if not the only one, of the last remaining large herds in the west.   No one has believed him in 10 years but Will Andrews is willing to risk his money, after all he is just wanting a big adventure and this will be it, buffalo or no buffalo.  The hunting party is small, just a cook, a skinner, the gunner (Miller, who leads the group), and Andrews.

 I remember reading Hemingway last year, the stories about bull fighting and how I felt like I was standing there.  How all the details appeared in your mind in a way that was uncomfortable but yet fascinating.  That was how it felt when that first old buffalo fell to Miller's gun.  The leader of the pack, you got to shoot him first even though his hide is worthless, Miller claims.  Then shoot the ones that appear to take over, again and again and again.  I can tell you that Williams had written in a way that I nearly quit reading the book at the 50% point because it was so believable and emotional.   The writing was so true that I even felt I knew the basics on how to hunt and skin buffalo.

The book is much more than that, however.  Survivability in the midst of harsh circumstances, in the company of people whom you really don't like.  Disappointment, as well as the fact of eternal changes- well all of these are wrapped into the story of this book.

In the end, Andrews did get his money's worth.  And we did too.  I'm left wondering why Williams only penned 3 novels in his lifetime (4 if you count an early one that he said to ignore).

He came to accept the silence he lived
in, and tried to find a meaning in it.

Will Andrews, "Butcher's Crossing"
Chapter 7 (as they were stranded
for the winter in a snow storm)