Review: The Hearts of Men

 

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

 

This is a guy’s book; a grownup Boy Scout’s novel. It’s for some women too. Women who have loved bad men who broke their heart or men who came home from war, lugging the war with and—it’s about love and loss and hope. And underneath, it’s about revenge.

One of the main characters is the setting, a fictionalized Boy Scout camp situated on a chunk of beautiful land north of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, nestled along Bass Lake. The impressive collection of human characters in this story spans six decades and three generations, but swims around and around author Butler’s main Boy Scout; Nelson. Early on, when Nelson is a young man at camp, he is given some advice that follows (and haunts) him for the rest of his life.

“…the truth is, not all of these boys will become good men…good human beings. We do our best, try our damnedest to guide them, and instruct them. But in the end…Some boy in this room will become a murderer; another, a bank robber. Some of these boys will cheat on their taxes, others on their wives.”

As the interconnected storylines unfold, many of Nelson’s ‘friend’s’ lives unravel into divorce, murder, booze and loneliness. Through it all, Butler manages to wrap everyone’s life around some core Scout beliefs that if you walk with a moral code of good in your back pocket, somehow things could turn out. Or not.

“And now Jonathan turns his back on the younger boy, moves his head out of the tent, into the rain, “Sometimes,” he begins quietly, “I think you get mixed up in something, and it’s like stepping into a river. The current takes you and the next thing you know, you’re swimming…” He stands up fully and is gone, the flaps undulating behind him like green canvas curtains.”

On several occasions, stepping into a new scene or chapter, I had to backtrack in order to find the story thread forward. Once on track, the story moved onward in ways I found both exhilarating and very, very dark. Like life. Though female characters are few, one stands out, Rachel. Her inner thoughts are rich, rough, raw and sadly true.

“She’ll never marry again. Why would she? And it isn’t that she even desires another husband, or even, for that matter, a man, a lover. Men bore her, frankly. If only it weren’t so lonely, fighting the single-parent fight. Wouldn’t it be nice, she thinks, to simply have someone to confide in? Who had dinner ready when she came home from work?…To help pay the bills, carry the garbage out, remove a dead mouse from the basement…Just the kind of garden-variety male come-on a woman endures all the time until, of course, her body ages into simple invisibility.”

As the pages literally fly by and the ending lands neatly around you, Butler leaves you with a small ray of hope. And isn’t that what a really good read should do?

 

  • Soon to be a movie
  • Wisconsin Author
  • MORE has it—run!

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