Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Fountain) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
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Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (page numbers refer to the hardcover edition):

1. Do the young men from Bravo meet your expectations of what war heroes are...or should be? Given their behavior—drinking, trash-talk, hyper-sexuality, and brawling—are they what you think of when the word "hero" comes to mind? Do you find Ben Fountain's portrayal of them funny ... offensive ... realistic...?

2. Talk about the individual members of Bravo, especially Billy and Dime—what do you think of them? What other member of the team stood out as you read the novel?

3. What kind of character is Albert? Most books and films are scathing in their portrayal of Hollywood and its values. How does Albert, a three-time Oscar winner, stack up to the stereotypical Hollywood producer—what do you make of him?

4. Talk about the other characters—in particular Billy's family and, of course, Norman Oglesby.

5. Billy feels it's obscene to talk about Shroom's death...

and he wonders by what process any discussion about the war seems to profane these ultimate matters of life and death (p. 137).

Is it possible for any noncombatant to understand the depth of Billy's grief? Is it "profane" to talk about Shroom...or is there a way, as an outsider, to talk about war and death without cheapening it? Billy thinks there ought to be a special lanaguage to do so. Do we have such a language?

6. Follow up to Question 5: The book seems to take aim at civilians who talk to the Bravo team: their questions, comments, and references to patriotism, 9/11, terrorism, God, and war are over-the-top—their words are even presented in a vertical-diagonal format. But much of the outpouring of gratitude seems genuine, even if inane. How does a civilian talk to a combatant, someone who faces the constant threat of death and witnesses violence on a scale unimaginable to most of us? What can any of us say? What have you ever said to a returning soldier?

7. The book abounds with parallels between the world of football, especially the Cowboys, and the military. Talk about how those similarities evidence themselves thoughout the book? What is the author trying to get at by settting up comparisons between the two?

8. Albert tells Bravo that they are true heroes for the twenty-first century. He says that their heroism "has really touched a nerve in this country" (p. 56). What "nerve" has been struck...why is the public so enamored with the young men? Why the deluge of attention and adulation? What is it based on?

9. Follow-up to Question 8: Billy, on the hand, pities the Americans and their frenzy to connect with Bravo. He refers to them as children (pp. 45-46). Why is he so disproving of his fellow Americans? Do you consider Billy cynical? Or does he realize something about the nature of his fellow citizens? If so, what does he see in them...in us?

10. Follow-up to Question 9: Billy thinks that Americans have no conception of the "state of pure sin toward which war inclines" (p. 46). What does he mean? How does war incline to sin if one is fighting for one's country?

11. What do you think of the oilman engaged in fracking shale oil who, during lunch at the Statium club, tells Bravo...

So it's a personal thing with me, boosting domestic production.... I figure the better I do my job, the sooner we can bring you young men home.

Is the oilman genuine in his desire to cut foreign imports? How do you see him—is he a patriot? Why is Dime so angry with him? Is Dime's reaction disrespectful, unfair, even spiteful? Or is he dead-on? Do you find the entire exchange offensive or funny or sad?

12. How does religion, or religiosity, fare in this book? What is Billy's attitude toward God and prayer?

  • Is God watching out for the young men of Bravo? Should they be more prayerful?
  • Or is the difference between life and death, as Billy contemplates, completely random, a matter of chance?
  • Or, again, is it a matter of impersonal, preordained fate? When Shroom tells Billy of an Inuit Shaman who could foretell the day of your death, Billy understands Shroom's point that "if a bullet's going to get you, it's already been fired" (p. 27).

How does Billy engage with religion or spirituality? As a soldier, what form would your (or do your) religious beliefs take?

13. Much is made of class distinction in Halftime Walk. Talk about the many references to social class—starting, perhaps, with Mango's comment that what awaits him on his return from Iraq is a job at Burger King (p. 72).

14. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is considered satire, a type of literature that takes a sardonic view of societal conventions. What is this book satirizing—what are its specific targets? By definition, satires are humorous, even absurd...are there sections in Halftime Walk you found particularly funny? Are there parts that angered...or saddened you?

15. What is Billy's "long halftime walk"? What is the significance of the book's title? (See also another book issued shortly after Fountain's: Brian Castner's The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows. The "Long Walk" is a reference to Iraq.)

Spoiler Alert for the remaining questions.

16. Bravo refuses to participate in further discussions of the film project. Why—especially when they're offered a cut of the profits? Is the decision to withdraw a sound one? Why is Dime, in particular, so angry with Norman Oglesby?

17. Follow-up to Question 16: Is Oglesby right when he says that the country needs the film, that it will give a much needed boost to national pride? In other words, is the film greater than Bravo—does its need to be made transcend the needs of the squad as Norman suggests? Is that a valid or a bogus argument?

18. When Billy tells Faison at the end of the book that he would be willing to go run away with her...

She lifts her head, and with the one look he knows it's not to be. Her confusion decides it, that flicker of worry in her eyes? What is he talking about? (p. 305)

What's behind Faison's negative reaction? Does she genuinely fear the consequences for Billy if he goes AWOL? Or is she is attracted to Billy, not for who he is, but for what he is—an acclaimed national hero, a status he would jeopardize if he were to desert? Is there a genuine, heart-felt connection for either of them?

19. Why does Billy decide to return to Iraq? Should he have taken the way out his sister offered him? Were you hoping he would...or hoping he would return and face possible death? If Billy were your brother, son, husband, or boyfriend, what would you advise him?

20. What does Billy come to realize by the end of the book as he settles back in the limo that will take him back to base and from there to Iraq? What is his state of mind?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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