Butcher's Crossing cover
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Publication date:
January 16, 2007
NYRB Classics
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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.


One of the finest novels of the West ever to come out of the West.
— —Stanton Peckham, The Sunday Denver Post

One of the finest books about the elusive nature of the West ever written…It’s a graceful and brutal story of isolated men gone haywire.
Time Out New York

Harsh and relentless yet muted in tone, Butcher’s Crossing paved the way for Cormac McCarthy. It was perhaps the first and best revisionist western.
The New York Times Book Review

A new look at the old story of the west. At last…a writer has used the familiar episodes to do what all good fiction should do—give the reader fresh insight into human life.
Chicago Tribune

Butcher’s Crossing dismantles the myth of the west, revealing a horror story about the grinding day to day of just surviving…[a] restrained and gorgeous lyricism…even in its softer moments it doesn’t overdo anything, and the moral criticism is in the precision of the language, the now-famous simple and elegant Williams prose.
—Bret Easton Ellis, The Guardian