Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

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Nineteen-year-old Billy Lynn is home from war. Back in Texas, he has become a national celebrity. A Fox News crew filmed Billy and the rest of Bravo squad defeating Iraqi insurgents in a ferocious firefight. Now Billy is a decorated soldier and Bravo's three minutes of extreme bravery under fire is a YouTube sensation. Seizing on this PR gift, the Bush administration has sent the surviving members of Bravo on a nationwide 'Victory Tour' to reassure the folks at home. Today, during the final hours of the tour, they arrive ...

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Gissinglover

May 29, 2019

Bravo

Ben Fountain's 2012 novel "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" was an outstanding choice to read over this Memorial Day weekend, with its parades and commemorations of our country's many brave soldiers who didn't return home. This weekend, alas, also apparently marked the last appearance of Rolling Thunder in Washington, D.C., ending a long Memorial Day tradition.

This is a novel about the Iraq War set on Thanksgiving Day at Cowboy Stadium during a Dallas Cowboy football game. It is the story of Bravo Company which consists of ten young men who have performed heroically in the war and who have been brought back by the Bush Administration for a two-week tour culminating with the nationally televised Cowboys game. Bravo Company appears as a halftime participant. The primary character in the story is Billy Lynn, 19, who acted with particular heroism and courage during a sharp firefight which was caught on film. Billy is from a Texas small time and was a reluctant enlistee.

With the exception of a flashback involving Billy's visit to his home, the entire novel is set at the stadium beginning with Bravo's arrival two hours before kickoff and concluding with the soldiers being whisked away from the stadium in a limousine to be sent back for another year's service in Iraq.

There is a great deal in the novel about the undeniable heroism and fortitude of these young American soldiers under brutal almost unimaginably stressful conditions. Fountain's novel also describes the reception Billy and his comrades receive on their tour, particularly at the game. The book shows a great deal of backslapping, ignorant responses to the soldiers from many people who profess patriotism but show no understanding of the war. There are many portrayals in the book of wealth and greed and of attempts on the football field and off to exploit the young men especially in negotiations for a Hollywood movie based on Bravo's achievements. Football and cheerleader culture are satirized. Young Billy in the excitement of the moment becomes involved with a lovely cheerleader. As the story progresses, Billy becomes more reflective and understanding about his situation and about his own life.

The strongest part of the book is the dialogue, particularly when the soldiers in Bravo speak. Fountain captures the colloquial, profane, expressive character of American speech and thought.

The book aptly captures a money-making culture which works to use the soldiers rather than to understand them and to understand the war they have been sent off to fight.

Many people read this novel as a sharp critique of American culture, including the Iraq War. With all the criticism especially of some wealthy Texans I found this book took a loving look at the United States and its people, especially the rural poor who make up a large portion of the fighting force and who are gallant, patriotic, and loyal. America owes a great deal to its warriors and properly takes time to honor them on Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, and other times. I found "Billy Lynn's Halftime Walk" offers a moving view of our soldiers and of their service and sacrifice. The book shows how it is possible to criticize on one level and also to love and to be patriotic. With the satire and greed the book also offers a positive portrayal of the United States and its promise and of American freedom.

Robin Friedman

throwingheat

May 23, 2013

A brilliant talent.

Fountain's novel--the best, boots-on-the-ground portrait of contemporary American culture I have read in years--places the reader in the middle of a 20-car collision of hopes and habits and values, framed within one of the nation's most revered rituals. An outstanding effort full of passages that invite open-mouthed admiration for his "yeah, he pulled that one right outa my head" skill with prose.

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