Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams (1960)

Think you’re depressed? Well, wallow away with Williams. Even the title’s depressing and gory. Butcher’s Crossing is not a romcom.

Some say there’s nothing like other people having a shit time to make you feel better.

I say the writing’s worth it.

So, pop the pills below the pillow and peruse this single paragraph. And if the alliteration’s provoking, pop ’em out, pop one, pop ’em back, and pore on.

It’ll set you up nicely and give you taste of Williams’s workmanship.

‘Well, there’s nothing,’ McDonald said. ‘You get born, and you nurse on lies, and you get weaned on lies, and you learn fancier lies in school. You live all your life on lies, and then, maybe when you’re ready to die, it comes to you – that there’s nothing, nothing but yourself and what you could have done. Only you ain’t done it, because the lies told you there was something else. Then you know you could have had the world, because you’re the only one who knows the secret; only then it’s too late. You’re too old.’

That’ll put some eek in your bleak.

Okay, I’ll see a doctor.

I love the euphonic You live all your life on lies… die.

I love the sucker punch of nothing, nothing – he has, after all, already told us right at the beginning with Well, there’s nothing.

But the real noose loosener, to help you get it round your gullet, is the awful, morbid, helpless passivity oozing out of every clause. Get born, get weaned, get told – all lies.

And there ain’t nothing you can do about it.

Wake up in a sweat at night? You will, when reading this book. (Oh, and if in the meantime you get stuck in a blizzard, stay alive in a nearby carcass.)

Actually, I’m beginning to wonder if Williams was a Member of SOD (Slough of Despond club). It’s donging a distant dinger of another paragraph he wrote in another of his brilliant books, Stoner.

Hang on. Ah, sorry, not a uplifting phrase. Let’s go with, back in a bit.

Found it. Here you go, from Stoner.

[The protagonist William Stoner with his dipso daughter, Grace…]

They talked late in the night, as if they were old friends. And Stoner came to realize that she was, as she has said, almost happy with her despair; she would live her days out quietly, drinking a little more, year by year, numbing herself against the nothingness her life had become. He was glad she had that, at least; he was grateful that she could drink.

Euphonitastic. Numbing herself against the nothingness.

Boy, does he do bleak. The no-escapeness is haunting.

With Williams, I reckon it must’ve been an inside job.

I’m off to the pub. See you there.

Thanks for being here.

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Guy Nicholls

Writer and book bore.

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