“Young folk […] they don’t know what to do with themselves.”
A young man in the 1870’s drops out of Harvard and finds his way to Butcher’s crossing. He finds a reputable man who offers him a job managing the finances of the buffalo trade, but it’s not enough for Will Andrews.
He tracks down a man named Miller who knows of a secret spot where there’s an untouched buffalo herd, ripe for the killing. All he needs is a little money. Andrews has that money – on one condition: he gets to come along.
The party sets off to find the mythical spot of buffalo and we follow them along the way. They end up snowed up in the mountains and when they come back the market has turned. Buffalo hides are worthless and their efforts are wasted.
This is a book that jam-packed with themes, criticism about capitalism, America’s foundation and a whole lot about searching for your place in the world. Andrews is ultimately searching for a place in the world, a dream to sustain him. And as this novel is a John Williams novel it of course ends without a neat bow. Andrews rides off into the sunset having learned that everything is meaningless. His investment cost him dearly, but there is nothing to be learned, no life lesson.
“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.”