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Weekend Book Review – Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk follows one day in the life of 19-year-old Specialist Billy Lynn and the rest of the Bravo company. This one day is the last day of their Victory Tour, a national celebration for Bravo’s defeat of Iraqi insurgents, a feat filmed by a news channel and uploaded to YouTube. In this age, people can be YouTube sensations by recording themselves singing songs in the hopes that key people from the entertainment industry will stumble upon their videos, but in the case of Bravo, not only has their battle video made them into household names, it has also turned them into revered and honored national heroes.

Their three-minute video inspires a producer to rally at Hollywood for a movie out of the event, a cause for celebration for Bravo. Why not? The promise of a hundred grand for every surviving member can turn his life around. They wouldn’t be infantry men if they had at least enough money to sustain a living, right? Even Billy, who is sent to the Army not for financial difficulties, can do a lot with that money.

During the Victory Tour, the Bravo men mingle with ridiculously rich and powerful people. During the last leg of the national tour, the owner of the football team Dallas Cowboys mingle with them, along with other rich and powerful people. With thigh-slapping hilarity and chin-rubbing profundity, Fountain portrays the stark difference of the rich and the poor. Bravo realizes how displaced they are in this world of business and political cocktails, and how strange it is that they ended up there. This is only one of the harsh realities that Billy has to absorb soon, because right after the Dallas Cowboys’ game, they are heading back to Iraq.

Despite Billy’s headache, a multitude of questions plague him. What would people think of him if he decides to escape Iraq and plead insanity? Would people think him a coward? Has he not fulfilled his obligation to his country? Doesn’t he owe to himself and to his family to exhaust all options in order to stay? Would it be a betrayal to his Bravo brothers if he turns his back on the war for the sake of his own life? Would it weaken his bond with Shroom, the fallen compatriot whom Billy has learned to love the most?

Shroom is like a wise and guiding brother, a brother that Billy never had. There’s a poetic and zen aspect to Shroom, and as it is with poets in fiction, he died in action at Billy’s arms. When Billy feels like crying because he is envious of the rich who don’t have to go to Iraq and because he is scared, he is reminded of Shroom’s words to him: don’t be scared. Further:

Fear is the mother of all emotion. Before love, hate, spite, grief, rage, and all the rest, there was fear, and fear gave birth to them all, and as every combat soldier knows there are as many incarnations and species of fear as the Eskimo language has words for snow. Spend any amount of time in the realms of deadly force and you will witness certain of its fraught and terrible forms.

Further questions: Is Hilary Swank really going to play the lead role in their movie? Will they meet Beyoncé and the other girls of Destiny’s Child right after halftime show? Will somebody ever give him an Advil? Will the cheerleader whom Billy found a connection with wait for his return from Iraq? Will he even join Bravo back to Iraq or not?

[Read in April 2015.]
[5 out of 5 stars.]
[307 pages. Trade paperback. New.]

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