The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler

Hearts of menI am, barring any unseen literary missteps, now a lifelong fan of Nickolas Butler. Beginning with the superb Shotgun Lovesongs, following that with Beneath the Bonfire, and now releasing The Hearts of Men, I am absolutely on board with anything he writes. Cereal boxes, Ikea manuals, it doesn’t matter. Beginning at a Wisconsin summer camp in 1962 and spanning six decades, Butler’s newest novel is his best yet.

Nelson, bullied overachiever, is the camp’s bugler. Jonathan is a popular boy at camp. The two form an unlikely and uncertain friendship.

As the years pass, Nelson, a Vietnam veteran, becomes scoutmaster of beloved Camp Chippewa, while Jonathan becomes a successful businessman. They remain connected as both Jonathan’s son and grandson find their way to the camp.

This is not a happy book, and at times it is deeply unsettling, but it is timely. Filled with bravery, morality, and redemption, it shows what the most ordinary of boys and men are capable of. As it examines both Nelson and Jonathan at turning points in their lives, we learn about the ways they are shaped from their childhood, the men they become, and how complicated even the simplest person can be. It will undoubtedly be one of my favorite books this year.

At what point are you willing to read anything an author writes? One good book? Two? Three seems to be my number.

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  • Marisa @The Daily Dosage

    I’m so happy to hear this worked for you. I’ve only read the short stories but they were some of the best I’ve read so I became a fan. I just got this from the library and might have to move it up on the list.

    • Rory O’Connor

      It’s different, but I still very much enjoyed his writing!

  • Naomi

    I don’t usually go for whole novels about only men, but you make this sound good. I’m also drawn to the boy scout thing, maybe because my husband is very involved in it. (Although now, of course, it’s also for girls, and it’s my youngest daughter who loves it.)

    • Rory O’Connor

      Women are definitely in peripheral roles, but it’s a good one. It’s a bonus that you have a connection to it!

  • Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves)

    Oh man – Butler was well on his way to becoming that kind of author for me, but I didn’t like this one 🙁 I was SHOCKED that I didn’t like it. I felt like the writing didn’t sparkle as much as in the first 2 books and that a lot of random “issues” were packed in in a way that didn’t quite gel for me.

    I definitely feel like I’m in the minority on this one.

    • Rory O’Connor

      I enjoyed it. I went to his author talk and book signing this week and he said that this book was so different from his previous two books, that his publisher dropped him. I like the nostalgia of it and the idea of summer camp.

      • Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves)

        Oh interesting…and kind of sad even though I wasn’t a huge fan of this book. I mean, nothing like pigeonholing an author into thinking he/she has to write books that are all the same.

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