Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Done: "A Hard and Heavy Thing" by Matthew W. Hefti

Done: A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew W. Hefti, 2016, 9781440591884.

Hefti won an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association for this one. A couple people from the Literary Awards committee did a webinar a month or so ago and I reserved the novel after listening to them speak about the book. The book was ok.

Basically written as a kind of love letter by one guy to his best friend. Levi and Nick live in La Crosse, WI, play in a punk band, drink too much, smoke dope, live like slobs, and half-heartedly attend UW-LaCrosse. During one drunken night after 9/11 they impulsively decide to join the Army and actually carry through with that decision the next day.

The book was a bit confusing to read at first with a constantly changing point of view and narrative asides in [brackets]. On page 60 Hefti actually addresses the issue when [in brackets] he writes about a Professor character, "He also would have hated the shifting points of view, these constant regressions into the colloquial first-person ... did I really need to intrude into the story using brackets like hugs? And did I need a hug because I lacked confidence? To which I reply: If I sound unsure of myself, it's because I am." Levi is the narrator but he tells the story from a shifting 1st person perspective and a 3rd person view.

The story focuses on the relationship between best pals Nick and Levi, their time together in Iraq, a difficult return to Wisconsin and a slow, or failed, recovery by both of them into civilian life. Reading about Levi's self-destructive behavior was difficult. Levi was a non-com and blames himself for Nick's burn injuries in Iraq and deaths of some other soldiers. Nick's vehicle was hit by an IED and the explosion killed three soldiers and wounded two. Levi thinks those tragedies happened after a prank by Levi that started a series of events that snowballed into the ambush. Levi had put a small stone under Nick's body armor where Nick could not get the rock out. After hours of patrolling and distraction from the pebble Levi thinks Nick's distraction caused him to miss identifying the IED.

Nick, in turn, is doing fairly well recovering from severe burns on his face and body. He woke up in a blasted vehicle with his vehicle commander's arm laying across his chest. Nick does okay with the aftermath of combat but his new marriage is not going well. Nick and his wife are now in a constant state of tension. His wife had her drinking problem under control but Nick still frets over it.  Since Levi has returned to LaCrosse and lives in their basement, drinking like a fish, Nick and his wife are dealing with PTSD addled Levi's general pain-in-the-assery.

The book is not really my bag. I almost bailed on it but finished. A neat thing is that the section set in Iraq has Hefti portraying himself as a character. Hefti served as a EOD guy for several years and spent four tours - I think it was four - across Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hefti's acknowledgments thank Tyrus Books. Tyrus was shut down this year by the house that bought them out.

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