Posted February 19, 2016
“A Hard and Heavy Thing”
By Matthew J. Hefti
By CLARISSA BUCH
“A Hard and Heavy Thing,” written by first-time author Matthew J. Hefti, tells a story of two lifelong friends who join the army mere weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The work documents the two boys’ journey through war, homecoming, love and loss.
Using stark storytelling, raw and unfiltered prose and grave attention to detail, Hefti easily captures readers. His writing challenges previous beliefs about what it’s like to join the army, come home and be named a hero in the face of death. It illuminates a soldier’s deepest thoughts – internal, mental battles many war novels exclude.
Hefti, a former solider, was deployed twice to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan, spending nearly 12 years at war. While enlisted, he earned a B.A. in English and an M.F.A. in creative writing, and now is pursuing his Juris Doctor at the University of Wisconsin Law School. As an explosive-ordinance-disposal technician with a strong background in writing, his credibility and accuracy in his writing makes the story appear to be staggeringly real.
Though Hefti’s first-hand knowledge adds authenticity to the book, which is broken up into three parts, there are times it becomes hard to follow. The second act uses a great deal of army jargon, making if difficult for readers to focus on the narrative as arbitrary war abbreviations are scattered across multiple pages.
However, the gist of the story, which is battling wartime, acclimating to home life, and acting as heroes when needed, remains clear.
Centered around Levi and his best friend Nick, the novel begins in La Crosse, Wis., where the two grew up and live. They are college freshman challenged by teenage angst. Neither have much direction. They spend most of their time drinking and experimenting with drugs, playing in a band and sometimes going to class. Faith plays an important role in both of their lives, as they we’re raised Lutheran and have strong ties to their community church.
The Sept. 11 attacks provoke Levi and Nick to take on a grander role in the world. Blinded by a romance of saving lives and being named heroes, the two abruptly join the army. Levi, more so than Nick, is tired of life in his small town and believes that volunteering to fight would open up more opportunities than his community ever would.
The book shifts from the boys’ romantic concept of being a soldier to the realities of fighting on the frontlines in Iraq. The two patrol in Humvees, basically waiting to be attacked. That day soon comes, which happens to be the same day Levi was promoted to second-in-command. Levi had decided to take an alternate patrol route and, after the attack, is confronted with the deaths of two squad members, trying to save Nick from near death and knowing his decision contributed to one of his deadliest strikes.
Levi does save Nick, which earns him a Silver Star for bravery and a slew of praise from squad members, high ranking officers and his small town back in Wisconsin.
The final act focuses on Levi and Nick’s life post-war. Nick copes with his injuries later turned disabilities from the attack and attempts to return to life as a regular citizen. He marries Eris, Levi and Nick’s best-girl-friend pre-war and arguably both of their love interests.
Homecoming does not come as easy for Levi. He struggles deeply with his return to civilian life. Though his family and community members praise his strength and courage at war, he can’t shake his guilt. Blaming himself for that deadly mission in Iraq, he battles with the ceaseless praise his town-members blindly give.
Roles reverse as Nick now tries to save Levi, who throughout the last act contemplates suicide. Nick encourages Levi to express his feelings through writing as Levi finds it too difficult to muster out loud.
What begins as a suicide note transforms into a piece filled with love, hope and harsh realizations about the true meaning of sacrifice, gallantry, and unwavering courage.
Despite its length and use of army verbiage, the story is compelling and a worthwhile read for more than just war-buffs.
- Title: “A Hard and Heavy Thing”
- Author: Matthew J. Hefti
- Publisher: Tyrus Books
- Availability: Kindle, hardcover and paperback
- Prices: On Amazon for the hardcover: $24.99, paperback: $10.06, Kindle edition: $8.83
- Edition: First
- Released: Jan. 1, 2016
- Pages: 365
- Rating: 4/5 in terms of war novels