Camp Chippewa, 1962. Nelson Doughty, age thirteen, social outcast and overachiever, is the Bugler, sounding the reveille proudly each morning. Yet this particular summer marks the beginning of an uncertain and tenuous friendship with a popular boy named Jonathan.
Over the years, Nelson, irrevocably scarred from the Vietnam War, becomes Scoutmaster of Camp Chippewa, while Jonathan marries, divorces, and turns his father’s business into a highly profitable company. And when something unthinkable happens at a camp get-together with Nelson as Scoutmaster and Jonathan’s teenage grandson and daughter-in-law as campers, the aftermath demonstrates the depths—and the limits—of Nelson’s selflessness and bravery.
The Hearts of Men is a sweeping, panoramic novel about the slippery definitions of good and evil, family and fidelity, the challenges and rewards of lifelong friendships, the bounds of morality—and redemption.
Butler (Beneath the Bonfire) returns to rural Wisconsin in this big-hearted epic full of sturdy characters that wear their hearts and pride on their sleeves. Told in four parts spanning from 1962 to 2022 and set against the woodsy backdrop of a Boy Scout summer camp, Camp Chippewa, the narrative follows three generations struggling to find their place in a world bent on dealing them a bad hand. In the first section, 13-year-old social outcast Nelson finds little comfort as the camp's bullied bugler while dealing with conflicted feelings about his abusive father. A tentative friendship formed with cocky older Jonathan saves Nelson's hide more than once while also demonstrating the limits of just how much Jonathan can give. Part two narrows in on 49-year-old Jonathan's 16-year-old son, Trevor, falling in love with Rachel, as well as his front-row seat to Jonathan's marriage-busting affair on the way to Camp Chippewa. The slow-burn heartbreak continues in the two final sections. Once-widowed and twice-divorced Rachel makes an ill-fated decision to accompany her and Trevor's son, Thomas, on his last summer as a Boy Scout. In a fiery conclusion, Nelson and Jonathan reunite after more than 20 years wealthy and reclusive Jonathan is now a grandfather, and Nelson is about to retire as Camp Chippewa Scoutmaster. Butler demonstrates enormous command over the material and sympathy for his flawed characters. This beautiful novel might be his best yet.
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The Hearts of Men
A well written novel. Butler definitely knows a lot of the subject matter of scouting. But the ending seemed contrived and a typical left wing bias seemed apparent. Like it or not, the white working conservatives males at the end were the villains or the buffoons.