cover image The Hearts of Men

The Hearts of Men

Nickolas Butler. Ecco, $26.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-246968-7

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. Agent: Rob McQuilken, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (Mar.)