In Nickolas Butler’s fantastic novel we meet thirteen-year-old Nelson Doughty, also known as Bugler, while at Camp Chippewa in 1962 with his scout troop. Nelson is friendless and the youngest in his troop; his reserved personality and dedication to scouting put him at odds with some of the older boys and he is subject to their bullying. However, the events of the summer lead to a friendship of sorts with the older, popular Jonathan Quick.
Meanwhile, at home, Nelson receives lessons in manhood from father. When it appears that no one will show up for Nelson’s thirteenth birthday party he is unable to hold back the tears.
“There’ll be no crying now,” his father snapped. “You’re thirteen years old, Nelson! Men don’t – there will be no more crying! Is that understood?”
This multi-generational work takes us through the separation of Nelson’s parents, his informal apprenticeship with the old scoutmaster at Camp Chippewa, service in the Vietnam War, and later back to Camp Chippewa where Nelson is the new scoutmaster and his life once again intersects with Jonathan’s.
“You’re thirteen years old, Nelson! Men don’t – there will be no more crying! Is that understood?”
This moving novel explores manhood, the friendships between men, and the differences between the men we aspire to be and the men we become.
And once we’ve given up on those aspirations we’re simply left with hope for our sons: “And that’s all there is, Jonathan thinks, raising a better man than yourself, on into the future forever and ever.”
The Hearts of Men offers hope that despite the failings of their fathers, sons can grow up to be good men.