Review of Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams

Brutal, Bloody Realism.

Impressive in every way. While Williams’ old-fashioned style suits the atmosphere of this tense book, his sentences are florid in places. But the graphic depictions and tangible grit make this journey unforgettable. It reminded me of the film Wages of Fear.

I mourn the millions of buffalo hides rotting on the plains. It conjures the majesty and the devastation of nature. The horrors of human nature are but the tantrums of children in the face of Mother Nature’s cataclysmic spasms. You cannot read it and walk away unmoved. Like Robinson Crusoe, it is a story of Man surviving in an inhospitable space, reduced to animalism, while gripping the last shreds of his dignity like a ravenous wolf, starving for the promises of wealth and power with which we keep ourselves sane. 

Review of Stoner by John Williams

Good storytelling. A memorable picture of American life.

Steinbeckian. Stoner the famer becomes Stoner the stubborn professor. We witness his heartbreaking home life and his harrowing professional life–two spheres most middle class Americans dwell in like split personalities.

It has been called a perfect novel. I would like to point out a few of its weaknesses, from my standpoint. The writing is too passive. Too many filler words, especially in the first half, too much hedging, too many adverbs, gesticulations, and passive verbs. It’s all telling, not showing, summary, not scene. Most early literary classics indulge in the same vices. I think Nathanael West, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald could write better sentences, but despite all of the polite Henry Jamesian prose inflation, it has solid character, thought provoking themes and moving emotional highs. It’s not dense, but it is deep. It stands as a worthy classic. In short it could have been more tightly written. For being published in 1965 it reads a bit like Dreiser or Steinbeck. Today we get un-tight books by Cormac McCarthy and Delillo, but they aren’t fluffy, they’re maximalist. Still, the minimalist plot and moral arguments here are old fashioned and the author succeeds in what he set out to accomplish.

It is a descent into the human psyche. A closed-perspective study of values. The thesis defense scene and its fallout are masterfully done. The whole book is unforgettable.