Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Ben Fountain, 2012
Book Review by Molly Lundquist
Acerbic, heart-wrenching, and at times out-right hilarious, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk has been hailed as the new Catch 22 or Slaughterhouse-Five. It's also a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. (The winner—as of 3/2013!)
The story follows eight young soldiers of Bravo Squad, who find themselves national heroes after fighting bravely in Iraq—action caught on camera by a Fox news crew. Now they find themselves on a Victory Tour of the U.S. to help gin up support for the war.
We jump in on the final leg of the tour, at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium—just the spot to take the pulse of a nationwide culture that conflates war and sports, soldiers and rock stars. Bravo is to be featured during the halftime show, headlined by none other than rock star Beyonce.
At the heart of the novel is Billy Lynn, who won special fame for his action during the firefight. But the fight cost Billy his best friend, and when asked in a press conference to talk about his friend's death, a memory still raw, he finds the idle questions obscene—to Billy they profane "ultimate matters of life and death." What he wants is language akin to prayer. "Otherwise," Billy thinks...
Just shut, Shut your yap and sit on it, silence being truer...than the star-spangled spasm...the redemptive hug, or this f***g closure...everyone's always talking about.
Everyone wants some piece of Bravo—to lay claim to them, to make money off them, to tell them they're doing God's work. Billy pities them as children who have no idea of the "state of pure sin toward which war inclines." Americans, he thinks, "have to go somewhere else to grow up, and sometimes die." Iraq is apparently that "somewhere else."
A film director wants to put together a movie deal, the owner of the Cowboys wants to fund it, and Staff Sergeant Dime, who loves the boys "more than their mommas even," just wants to hold his womanizing, boozing, trash-talking, brawling boys to some semblance of dignity. Throw in a gorgeous Dallas Cowboy cheerleader who falls for Billy—and it's a heck of a ride.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is an extraordinary novel: a satirical view leveled at America's lust for war combined with an honest accounting of war in real terms—the lives lost and souls damaged. This is one of the best books of 2012.
See our Reading Guide for Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.
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