Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and a finalist for the National Book Award
“Brilliantly done . . . grand, intimate, and joyous.” —New York Times Book Review
From the PEN/Hemingway Award-winning author of the critically acclaimed short story collection, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, comes Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk ("The Catch-22 of the Iraq War" —Karl Marlantes).
Three minutes and forty-three seconds of intensive warfare with Iraqi insurgents—caught on tape by an embedded Fox News crew—has transformed the eight surviving men of Bravo Squad into America’s most sought-after heroes. Now they’re on a media-intensive nationwide tour to reinvigorate public support for the war. On this rainy Thanksgiving Day, the Bravos are in Texas Stadium, slated to be part of the halftime show.
Among the Bravos is nineteen-year-old Specialist Billy Lynn. Surrounded by patriots sporting flag pins on their lapels and support our troops bumper stickers, he is thrust into the company of the team’s owner and his coterie of wealthy colleagues; a born-again cheerleader; a veteran Hollywood producer; and supersized players eager for a vicarious taste of war. Over the course of this day, Billy will drink and brawl, yearn for home and mourn those missing, face a heart-wrenching decision and discover pure love and a bitter wisdom far beyond his years.
Poignant, riotously funny, and exquisitely heartbreaking, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a searing and powerful novel that has cemented Ben Fountain’s reputation as one of the finest writers of his generation.
Unfolding over the course of one Thanksgiving Day, Fountain's (Brief Encounters with Che Guevara) second novel follows Bravo Company, the eight survivors of a savage clash with Iraqi insurgents, on the last leg of their government-sponsored "Victory Tour" in this witty and ironic sendup of middle America, Fox News politics, and, of all things, football. One minute, the soldiers are drinking Jack and Cokes, mobbed by hordes of well-wishers demanding autographs and seeking "the truth" about what's "really going on" over there; the next, they're in the bowels of Texas Stadium, reluctantly hobnobbing with the Dallas Cowboys and their cheerleaders, brokering a movie deal with a smarmy Hollywood producer, and getting into a drunken scuffle with the stadium's disgruntled road crew, all in a series of uncomfortable scenes that border on the farcical. Texan Billy Lynn is the 19-year-old hero who learns about life and himself on his visit home to his family, and the palpable camaraderie between soldiers ground the book. But despite much valid pontificating on what it means to be a soldier and the chasm that exists between the American public's perception of the war and the blunt reality of it, the often campy writing style and canned dialogue ("We, like, we wanna do somethin' like you. Extreme, you know, cap some Muslim freaks...") prevents the message from being delivered effectively.
Ben Fountain does an excellent job in creating the gestalt of Bravo squad. The seeming irreverence masking the profound experiences of the young soldiers rings true with my military experience. The juxtaposition of Bravo with the football game is spot on and evocative. It is a great read and falls in with other books such as Catch 22.
Billy's long walk into Texas stadium and the outpouring of accolades and hero worship is also his walk into obscurity. Fame is fleeting and so is his comrades in arms' reaping of rewards. What isn't is master storytelling and that , remembering courage on the battlefield of war or football is mostly for the Warriors, as it should be. A gripping fist novel . Keep them coming.
Ben Fountain portrays a soldier's perspective of the civilian world perfectly.