BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK by Ben Fountain
There are ten of them in the limo’s plush passenger bay, the eight remaining soldiers of Bravo squad, their PA escort Major Mac, and the movie producer Albert Ratner, who at the moment is hunkered down in BlackBerry position. Counting poor dead Shroom and the grievously wounded Lake there are two Silver Stars and eight Bronze among them, all ten of which defy coherent explanation. “What were you thinking during the battle?” the pretty TV reporter in Tulsa asked, and Billy tried. God knows he tried, he never stops trying, but it keeps slipping and sliding, corkscrewing away, the thing of it, the it, the ineffable whatever.
“I’m not sure,” he answered. “Mainly it was just this sort of road rage feeling. Everything was blowing up and they were shooting our guys and I just went for it, I really wasn’t thinking at all.”
Review by Jill I. ShtulmanÂ (FEB 27, 2014)
It is, perhaps, a fortuitous accident that I turned the last pages of Ben Fountainâ€™s absolutely brilliant novel during Memorial Dayâ€¦a day when rhetoric about courage, support, sacrifice, and patriotism overflows.
Billy Lynn â€“ the eponymous hero of this book â€“ is a genuine American hero. He and his fellow Bravo Squad members decimated an insurgency â€“ caught on film by an embedded Fox News crew — and became overnight sensations in a nation starved for good news about Iraq. They are brought home for a media-intensive â€śVictory Tourâ€ť â€“ in cities that happen to lie in an electoral swing state — to reinvigorate support for the war. We meet them at the end of that tour, on a rainy Thanksgiving, hosted by Americaâ€™s Team, The Dallas Cowboys.
They are, in more ways than one, anonymous to an American public; their reinvented names are meant to erase their identity (Major Mac, Mango, Lodes, Billy, etc.) In the fabled Texas Stadium, their faces are interspersed on a JumboTron screen with ads for Chevy cars and Cowboy-brand toaster ovens and high-capacity ice-makers.
Surrounded by so-called patriots, Billy and his friends are bombarded with words stripped of meaning: â€śrerrRist, currj, freedom, nina leven, Bush, values, support.â€ť Billy reflects: â€śThey hate our freedoms? Yo, they hate our actual guts! Billy suspects his fellow Americans secretly know better, but something in the land is stuck on teenage drama, on extravagant theatrics of ravaged innocence and soothing mud wallows of self-justifying pity.â€ť
The people that surround him are insatiably expecting Billy to impart wisdom in sound bites. Amid a world of plenty, multi-millionaires who have never put themselves in harmâ€™s way let loose a stream of platitudes but Billy â€śtruly envies these people, the luxury of terror as a talking pointâ€¦â€ť At another point, he reflects, â€śNever do Americans sound so much like a bunch of drunks as when they are celebrating at the end of their national anthem.â€ť
Nineteen-year-old Billy â€“ still a virgin, with major lust going on for a Cowboys cheerleader who believes that cheerleading is a â€śspiritual callingâ€ť â€“ has the necessary replies to inane questions down pat. He is as real as he can be, as American as he can be.
And in this way, Billy Lynnâ€™s Long Halftime Walk â€“marketed as a satire and blurbed as a new Catch-22 â€“ is anything but. There is nothing surreal about it; in fact, it is an entirely apt portrayal of the times we live in. I thought this book was absolutely brilliant â€“ well-crafted, filled with insight and wisdom, and heart-wrenching. In fact, Iâ€™d go so far as to call it the quintessential American novel, asking that all-important question: who are we and what do we want to become?
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 506 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Ecco; First Edition edition (May 1, 2012)|
|REVIEWER:||Jill I. Shtulman|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Wikipedia page on Ben Fountain|
|EXTRAS:||Reading Guide and Excerpt|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:|
February 27, 2014
Â· Judi Clark Â· No Comments
Tags: 21st-Century, Football, Great American Novel, Real Event Fiction, War Story Â· Posted in: Drift-of-Life, Humorous, National Book Award Finalist, National Book Critic Circle (NBCC), Texas, Unique Narrative, United States, y Award Winning Author