Friday, March 3, 2017

The Hearts of Men

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
HarperCollins Publishers: 3/7/17
eBook review copy; 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062469687

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler is a highly recommended epic covering six decades and three generations of (mostly) men with ties to the Boy Scouts' Camp Chippewa in Wisconsin.

Part one opens in 1962, 13-year-old Nelson Doughty is the Bugler for the camp. He is a social outcast, overachiever, and victim of an abusive father. This summer marks several changes for Nelson's life. He has one older boy, Jonathan Quick, who sometimes defends Nelson, but this time Nelson learns about the limits of that connection. Wilbur Whiteside, owner and Scoutmaster of Camp Chippewa, lets Nelson know how much he appreciates him and sees great character in him. This summer marks a betrayal by Jonathan and a saving action by Whiteside.

In Part two it is 1996 and the night before wealthy 49-year-old Jonathan Quick is taking his 16-year-old son, Trevor, to Camp Chippewa, they are meeting his friend Nelson, for dinner. Nelson, after attending West Point and serving in Vietnam, worked odd jobs until he took over Camp Chippewa, which he inherited from Whiteside.  This night sees a drunken Jonathan introducing his son to his mistress and strippers, in an attempt to keep his son from becoming serious with his girlfriend Rachel, and taunting Nelson.

Part three is set in 2019 when Rachel brings her and Trevor's son and Jonathan's grandson, Thomas, to the camp. Nelson is now 70-years-old and ready to retire. This time something shocking happens that demonstrates Nelson's bravery and character. Part four is the conclusion set in 2022.

This is a novel that explores bravery, loyalty, and friendship as it questions what it means to be a man and a role model to young men. It also looks at the ugly side of life and families as they face challenges that they will either overcome or fail. In this way it also explores good and evil. The main characters, until Rachel at the end, are all men and this is a very masculine novel in some ways. The characters are all flawed, struggling with life and trying to find their place in the world. They are well developed and memorable.

The writing is in The Hearts of Men is admirable. Butler's prose is full of careful insights and the plot is well-paced in this character-driven novel. Each part of the novel is separated by decades in the future, you will have to adjust to the characters now older and with more life experiences behind them as they negotiate the new challenges set before them.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

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