Denver was once home to a remarkable author; a respected educator, founder and editor of the Denver Quarterly, and 1973 co-National Book Award winner. The author of the novels Nothing But the Night, Butcher’s Crossing, Stoner, and Augustus and the two collections of poetry, The Broken Landscape and The Necessary Lie, is one of the great American authors, enjoys a fiercely devoted following, and is generally unheard of. His book Butcher’s Crossing is a majestic western, set in Kansas and the Rocky Mountains, that tells the story of a young Harvard student that drops out and heads west. Looking for some form of adventure, he becomes seduced by the stories of great buffalo herds that still roam further west, joins up with a group of rough frontiers men, and sets out for a complete life altering experience. This somewhat simple structure is merely the skeleton on which Williams probes deep into men’s psychology, their potential for fanatical pursuit of goals, and culminates in senseless destruction. Williams’s brilliant prose elevates the “western” into a new level of consciousness; the tension is built around obsession, pursuit, madness, slaughter, complicity in westward expansion as destruction. This is one of the greatest American/ and or Western novels ever written.
The book he is perhaps most known for is of a very different speed. Stoner is an “academic novel” that portrays a sad and lonely man devoted to scholarship that allows the wider to world wash over him. Again, a simple framework allows Williams to live in this man’s small life, and his general lack of achievement or connection to others becomes a sad, yet entrancing story. An ultimate example of a quiet novel, this is again an amazing and gorgeous book.
Both of these titles were reissued by New York Review of Books Classics. Had it not been for their incredible vision and editorial selection, these books, which just may belong up there in the major American canon, would perhaps have been entirely forgotten. They are as good as any other American novel written. Stoner, in fact, is currently having a major publishing success across Europe – it is a universal story, where loneliness and solitude are common elements of living.