Hearts of Men by Nikolas Butler at Karen’s February 1st 2018

On a cold winter night we got together at Karen’s to talk about summer camp experiences, boys, war, scouts, and myriad other things that go into the making of our children, pressure to conform to societal norms, joiners and onlookers, and much much more.

Karen cooked us the most delicious chili I have ever tasted!! Green chili salsa and tortillas started us off, with a lime rickey, then the chili and homemade biscuits and dessert and apple cobbler and butter tart squares … Yum!!!

When I asked for the recipe to post on this blog I was not surprised when she sent her answer “The chili recipe was a labour of love and much too much work for anyone to do (except crazy me).   I used Mexican chili peppers and other seasonings which would be difficult for most people to find and use.  The reason the meat was so tender was that I simmered it for 2 hours before adding the beans. Sorry I can’t give you one simple recipe to put on to the blog.  My recipe was a combination of a couple.”

The Hearts of Men

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.

From the Bookclub!

Moira was the only one of us unable to attend and she sent some musings in before the meeting which had the bonus of making her very present and active in our discussions:

hi Karen, 

Reading your book did bring back many fond memories of my 3 summers at camp. When I was in grade 6, my teacher started a summer co-ed camp in northern Ontario, then moved it to New Brunswick the following years. From the moment I arrived, I loved it. I loved being outside everyday and having my day literally filled with activities- every moment accounted for until lights out. I loved canoeing, archery, swimming, horseback riding, crafts, games, overnight tripping and nights filled with campfires, singing, skits and low organization, co-operative games. I even liked church service which was held outdoors with lots of songs sung in rounds and listening to the Director (my teacher), speak about friendship, co-operation, being kind. I liked it so much that I called home before my 2 weeks were over to ask if I could stay for a month!. As an adult I went to camp at Bark Lake and a WOW camp for women where I got to shoot a rifle, a crossbow , try fly fishing and shoot skeet. Camp prepared me for my 30 days at Outward Bound where we were on the water (Lake Nipigon), paddling for 10 days at a time and our instructors let us experience the full gamut, including paddling in the wrong direction for hours at a time! The biggest stress was the bugs and the fact that one of our group members did not pull his weight- but the instructors let us figure that one out too. 

Camp is the reason that I book my days full of activities. 

My husband and both my kids went to a co-ed summer camp in Haliburton, which they also loved and where they made lifelong friends. Both Devon and Brook started at 7 years old which was a bit too early for Brook but not for Devon and she went every year until she became a counsellor for a couple of years. Brook went to camp until grade 9.Camp is the reason Devon went to Dalhousie U, because many of her camp friends were going or were already there. I’m sure both good and bad things happened to them at camp but there were no cell phones then and we weren’t allowed to call them- only visit on visitor’s day. I consider camp to be one of the greatest gifts that we were able to give them. It really opened their minds to accept rules that govern communal living, and a more diverse group of people than they were exposed to in Burlington.

Brook also went to hockey camp for 3 years and they both went to Olympia and the McMaster Sport Fitness School camp for a number of years. 

I don’t think an all boys or an all girls camp would be quite the same. I know this from teaching segregated phys. ed classes. The class is always better, kinder, more co-operative, less rough and less cruel when there are both sexes in the class. I recently read a book called Ranger Games, a nonfictional novel written by a fellow about his cousin, Alex Blum. Alex wanted to be a Ranger (military designation just below Delta Force), all his life and was a well behaved, well liked, generous kid who committed armed robbery just before he was about to fulfil his life long dream and be deployed. The author tries to understand why and how this could have happened so he explores the male psyche a lot (Alex’s, the father, uncle, grandfather, his own, etc) . here’s a quote from the book which i think applies to The Heart of Men. 

“I struggled to reach some kind of peace with my grandfather’s memoir. it was so full of that hard male humor at sex and death that I had always accepted as the epitome of Blum manhood, but here it looked like weakness instead of strength, a pressure-release valve for men who were radically estranged from their moral and emotional lives.”  

It’s a wonder to me, how any men grow up with healthy morals and emotional lives, when they have so few role models. If they’re not lucky enough to see it in their fathers, brothers, coaches, camp counsellors etc. then how will they acquire it?

Sorry this is so long Karen, I really enjoyed the book but it made me feel that many young men are doomed to moral vacuity without more positive male figures in their lives. (locally and globally)

I will miss the rich discussion which I’m sure will take place at your bookclub. 

Regretfully, 

Moira 

Some of the comments from after the bookclub illustrate also how thought provoking the book and discussion were:

Hi Karen, thank you for picking this book and letting us have a glimpse into the difficult world of boys. I think I have more appreciation of the challenges of always keeping up that front of being strong and quiet about your feelings and keeping up with expectations that have been reinforced over thousands of years.  As I kept saying, I found it so sad… Jane

Agreed Jane, it was sad! And made all the more so by the author’s personal experience. Boys must be so stoic. I always learn so much more from hearing everyone’s viewpoint, and love our discussions for broadening my viewpoint. As always it was a delicious meal Karen, and I love your new addition to the house. It must be so peaceful to look out on your garden and watch the birds while contemplating an eye-opening passage in a book….Laura

From Erin: Since Sunday morning is my time for philosophical musings and weekly reflection… I have done some further thinking and reading…

Butler provided us with a glimpse into the soft core of the hearts of our boys… at  risk of destruction as they endure the fires of initiation of life experiences…as they gain ‘the hearts of men’.

Like marshmallows toasting over the campfire, some boys catch fire in the ‘growing up’ (toasting) process and become blackened, ashen, and/ or become too soft and fall off the stick into the fire, while others survive black, crusty and bitter from their experience(s).   There are all the wonderful experiences that camp affords: camping, hiking, canoeing, archery,  etc…. the glowing coals that provide for a tasty toasty warm golden brown marshmallow, a galvanized coating that strengthens and protects our tender boys. (Could one argue that our boys as a grouping are less tough and resilient than our girls?)   

 Here, perhaps Nelson’s peach cobbler is the better metaphor, with his long and careful attention to the fire needed to produce the right coals for a crunchy yet tender result.  Could this process of creating the coals needed for a crispy golden peach cobbler or toasted marshmallow be a metaphor for the classes of society and as well, our attention or not to the environments we provide for our boys? Birthplace or where we land on this earth is greatly influential on our development as humans;  some parts of the global fire being too ‘hot’ or volatile for good outcomes.  As well, we know for some, experiences cause  stress and trauma beyond endurance and the  result is not enough resilience to survive without maiming, and yes… some do not survive.  Who is and who will be there to pull those boys from the fire?

 Against the camp backdrop, the torching of each other that also occurs in group or other camp environments is reminiscent of Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’.  Is ritualistic ‘initiation’ or ‘tarring’ within  group (gang?) environments how we have been preparing our boys for war? For a tough life? Is scouting a structure that endorses values of right and wrong without examining the fact that our boys get killed in the line of action in the name of these values… but where the ‘frenemy’ represented by Jonathan sends them off to the slaughter in defence of these values,  while then raking in the wealth that war creates for the ‘haves’ in our society?  

 We as women are the supportive heroines, keeping the home fires burning.  Who is there to send us to… and pull us from… the fires?

 Well, I think that’s all for my Sunday musings…  Thank you for listening…  I needed to put my thoughts together further to our discussion Thursday, as I was nearing the end of a ridiculously long week and dealing with the resulting mental (if not physical fatigue). 

 Happy Sunday!

Many thanks Karen, for hosting an evening of delicious ‘camp’ food, and a stimulating and interesting discussion by everyone. I am always so impressed by everyone’s comments and  thoughts. I feel so lucky to be part of such a vibrant and lovely group of women!
A great start to our 2018 book season, and a couple of new thoughts to our date planning system that were ironed out:) Jill

Thank you again Karen for hosting and everyone for your much appreciate insights.  Every time we get together I always feel and think how bless and rich we/I am in being part of such thoughtful and insightful women.
  Erin, that was beautifully and metaphorical said. Thank you for your post reflection. 
May we continue to support and embrasse each other. Josee

 Preview YouTube video Hearts of Men

 

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