A Hard and Heavy Thing

matthew j. hefti

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“…a story of war, homecoming, friendship, and loss. Hefti writes with an urgency that demands attention and ultimately breaks the heart.”
—Elliot Ackerman, author of Green on Blue




Contemplating suicide after eight years at war, Levi sits down to write a note to his best friend Nick, explaining why he’s lost all hope. After a childhood of blood pacts, punk shows, and competing infatuations with the wounded and troubled Eris, both went off to war in a fit of youth and misdirected patriotism. But now Levi returns from Iraq both disgraced and lauded. A Silver Star for gallantry cannot alleviate the guilt he carries after his platoon’s deadliest mission. Levi may have saved Nick in Ad Dujayl, but when Levi returns home and implodes, Nick must play the savior, urging Levi to write. Levi begins typing as a way of bidding farewell, but what remains when he is done is not a suicide note; it’s a love song. One bold narrative spanning two wars across three continents, it’s a novel that challenges our ideas about sacrifice and courage. It’s a novel in which the beginning is the story’s end, the end is the real beginning of Levi’s life, and the future is as mutable as rewrites.

Matthew J. Hefti was born in Canada and grew up in Wisconsin. After 9/11, he visited the Armed Forces recruiter. He then spent 12 years as an explosive ordnance disposal technician. He deployed twice to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan, once to Iraq as an EOD team member and the remaining three tours as an EOD team leader. While enlisted, he earned a BA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing. He is now working, studying, and living in Madison, Wisconsin, where he is pursuing his Juris Doctor at the University of Wisconsin Law School.


“America’s Asian wars have already inspired fine novels, and this debut effort is an intense, compelling addition. Hefti was an explosive ordnance disposal technician deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq twice, and his depiction of life and death in the misbegotten Iraq invasion stay with readers for a long time.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Hefti seamlessly weaves excerpts from this suicide note into the novel’s narrative to create the illusion that Levi is talking to himself from the future. The story, then, is not only about the war, or the effects and symptoms of PTSD. It is about regret and guilt, and how much of a cruel joke it is that only hindsight is 20/20.”
Shelf Awareness (starred review)

“Finally! A war novel that’s less interested in bullets and bombs than it is the complicated inner lives of soldiers. In his brilliantly-observed and exquisitely-paced debut novel, Matthew Hefti has relegated the Iraq War to the background scenery, allowing us to concentrate on the actors standing in front of it. Sure, a harrowing bomb attack on a dusty road is the centerpiece of A Hard and Heavy Thing, but what really impressed me about the book were how the echoes from that bomb blast reached both backward and forward to the pre-war and post-war lives of its main characters Levi, Nick and Eris. Hefti plunges us head first into the whirlpool of these friends’ lives and makes us feel everything: the turbulence of teenagers caught in a love triangle, the consequences of joining the Army on a drunken whim and landing in the heat-baked animosity of Iraq, and, most of all, the painful throes of adjusting to post-deployment life. In the new parade of fiction coming out of our 21st-century wars, Matthew Hefti’s A Hard and Heavy Thing leads from the front.”
—David Abrams, author of Fobbit

“A timeless American story from the heartland, about two best friends desperately trying to do right when everything in the war is wrong. Hefti’s writing is literary but grounded, and rings with an honesty that is earnest and smart and sad. This novel is so true to itself it hurts.”
—Brian Castner, author of The Long Walk

A Hard and Heavy Thing is a story of war, homecoming, friendship, and loss. Hefti writes with an urgency that demands attention and ultimately breaks the heart.”
—Elliot Ackerman, author of Green on Blue

“A Hard and Heavy Thing is terrific. It is intellectually engaging in a way that almost no other war story can claim, save perhaps Phil Klay’s Redeployment. The tension builds, and as the story goes on, the story-beneath-the-story asserts itself–not unlike with David Foster Wallace’s footnotes–in longer and more muscular asides.”
—Adrian Bonenberger, contributor to The New York Times, The Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly, and author of Afghan Post

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