2014 Book #33: Butcher’s Crossing

2014 Book #33: Butcher’s Crossing

butcherscrossingI’m generally no fan of westerns. I’ve often put westerns in my List of Genres I Don’t Read, which includes the likes of mystery and romance. Well, that was until I started reading Cormac McCarthy and Stephen King‘s Dark Tower series. I softened my position a bit, though I figured those were big exceptions. Maybe they were, but I’m adding Butcher’s Crossing to that list right now because it’s fantastic. One of the best books I’ve read this year, in fact.

But I’ll get to that in a minute. I’ll tell a little story about my hatred for westerns.

My dad loves westerns. It’s his favorite genre, especially the treasure-hunting type. When I was a kid, he was convinced he could find the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, and he still carries around books about it. I’m also pretty sure he’s read every single Louis L’Amour book ever published. He’s pretty hardcore on the westerns. The problem is that he shared his genre love with an entirely uninterested teenager. He’d be reading some book about horses and plains and/or treasure-hunting, get really excited, and read loooooooong passages to my stepmother and me over dinner. Like pages and pages long. My boredom eventually turned into resentment of everything the western novel stands for, so I put them on the List. (Which has nothing to do with why mysteries and romances are also on that list: mysteries generally irritate me, and I’ve yet to find a romance novel that didn’t suck.)


So I guess my new-found love of the western (the good ones, anyway – Butcher’s Crossing is an NYRB Classic, and I haven’t yet gone wrong with one of those) has something to do with Not Being a Teenager Anymore. Which is fine.

Back to the novel. It’s about Will Andrews, a kid in his early twenties. He’s just spent three years at Harvard and decides he needs to See the Country, so he heads to Butcher’s Crossing, a tiny buffalo-hunting town in western Kansas. You know, when there were still buffalo and almost every single one hadn’t been killed off. Will decides to fund a buffalo hunt led by an old man named Miller who is convinced they’ll find thousands of buffalo up in the Colorado Territory. They take along two other men and head up there on what’s supposed to be a six-week trip. After almost dying of thirst on the plains, they make it to the Rockies, and, lo and behold, they find the buffalo herd Miller spoke of. Thousands. They’re up there for a few weeks, and Miller can’t stop: he’s convinced he can kill every buffalo in the herd and that they’ll make All Kinds of Money doing it. Except then they spend too much time there, and the snows come. They’re stuck up there all winter. Things Continue to Happen.

Ooooh, this is such a good book. I’m not sure why I got it, but I’m glad I did. I ordered it through interlibrary loan and got it in roughly two days. I was reading DeLillo‘s Running Dog, which is the same old shtick, and terribly bored, so I was glad to take a break (even though Running Dog is one of DeLillo’s shorter novels). I enjoyed every minute of Butcher’s Crossing. I felt like I was on the planes and up in the mountains, dealing with the snows along with Will and Miller. It’s a beautifully constructed novel and totally worth a read.

Zelda is 11 weeks old, now, and still ultra-cute.


We got her 15-foot tie-out leash for the back yard so she can hang around outside more than four feet away from us. Closely supervised, of course. She really enjoys it.

She’s still being alternately Very Good and Very Bad.




Sleepytime is the best.

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  • Have you read Stoner and, or Augustus?
    Both were excellent, and as far as I know, the only other books Williams wrote.

  • Okay, this is twelve kinds of ridiculous, but I didn’t make a connection between Butcher’s Crossing and Stoner. I read the latter last year and immediately decided that it’s the best book I’ve read in YEARS. Thanks so much for pointing that out. I have no idea how I missed that. The name sounded familiar, but I didn’t look it up. After that, Augustus is definitely on my shortlist.

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Indices, etc, coming soon!