I just started reading Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams. Last summer I read Williams’ Stoner and I fell in love with it. Stoner is about a boy whose father is convinced by his local extension agent to send his son to the new ag school at the state university. At college, the boy (Stoner) falls in love with literature, and decides to drop out of the ag school and become an English major.
Butcher’s Crossing is the inverse of Stoner. Will Andrews drops out of Harvard to go west to see what the frontier has to offer. His contact is a man who is in the business of processing buffalo hides. When asked by this man (MacDonald) why he came out west Andrews finds himself unable to articulate his transcendentalist fantasies to this ruthless destroyer of nature.
As I read Butcher’s Crossing, I will be considering Williams’ views towards the frontier by comparing and contrasting the flights from and to the wilderness. It seems as though these two books as a pair may be a powerful statement on the closing of the American frontier.
My interest in Turner and the Midwest has made me think a lot about the importance of the frontier in American history. The closing of the American frontier seems to be central in the current malaise in American culture. Williams has shown himself to be a perceptive and penetrating writer, and his commentary on the frontier should be enlightening.