Reading guide for The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler

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The Hearts of Men

A Novel

by Nickolas Butler

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler X
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2017, 400 pages
    Dec 2017, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Gary Presley

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. What does the title The Hearts of Men mean to you after reading?
  2. The novel spans over fifty years, yet as a reader we are only privy to certain sections of time, often with decades between them. Why do you think the author chose to narrate the story this way? How does it emphasize the generational effects of one man or one family's behavior?
  3. There is a pivotal moment in Nelson's camp experience where he chooses to alert Scoutmaster Wilbur to what he feels is untoward behavior, choosing to follow his sense of morality and duty over his desire to befriend the other boys. What would you have done in this situation? Would it be a hard decision?
  4. Nelson and Jonathan's relationship shifts significantly over the course of the novel. In what ways does the power dynamic of their relationship change over the years? Do you think that either man pities or envies the other—and if so, for what reason?
  5. What does it mean to Nelson to be a good person? To Jonathan? How do their opinions on the matter differ? How does happiness play into their ideas of 'goodness'?
  6. Nelson was a soldier in Vietnam, and while he suffered a serious injury, the emotional effects of war seem to have taken an even greater toll on him. How much of his strict adherence to this moral code do you think stems from his experiences in Vietnam, by a sense of wanting to atone?
  7. Jonathan introduces Trevor to his girlfriend, gets him drunk, and takes him to a strip club all on the same night—while Trevor is still a teenager. What effects does this have on Trevor's conception of relationships, and later, on his own behavior as an adult?
  8. When Rachel realizes on the night of the campfire that something is very wrong, her first impulse is to text her son, who in turn alerts Scoutmaster Nelson that his mother needs help. How does their relationship—though fraught at times—differ from the many father-son relationships we see throughout the novel?

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Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Ecco. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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