This book started off so badly, I felt rooked by the Audible editor's recommendation. HOWEVER, since I used a credit for this, I pluugged on. Who knew? It grew on me and I really liked it! It actually was worth listening to. Beware, there are strong stereotypes you just have to accept as honesty from the character and author's point of view. It is not politically correct. The narration was superb!
I’d heard a lot of good things about this book, but it took my old student Alex Barbolish recommending it to get it to the front of my queue. I’m glad he did since this is the best book I’ve read in weeks, and it strikes me as one of the best mirrors of our moment that I’ve seen.
It’s hard not to think of this book in conversation with other American war novels, particularly Catch-22. Both of these are satires, even farces, yet there’s something much gentler about Billy Lynn. If Joseph Heller was trying to channel his fresh anger and outrage at the idea of war, Ben Fountain is dealing with a refrain: we all know war is stupid and, in a post-Vietnam era with a war founded on what many of us have come to see as Bush’s “lies” about the real threat of Saddam, it’s old news that governments risk young men’s lives for obscure purposes.
If the news is old, though, the story is always new. Billy has heroically come to the near rescue of one of his friends in an experience that seems more authentic on television than through his memory or his testimony. It’s been since Hemingway (and maybe even Crane) that we recognize how difficult it is to tell your own war story, but Bill has to discover that truth all over again.
Instead of going down the earnest path of, most notably, Tim O’Brien, though, Fountain explores the problem through absurdity. Here are Billy and his friends, a day before going back to Iraq, being celebrated by the Dallas Cowboys and weighed for participation in a major motion picture.
If Catch-22 puts its satire in neon, this is done in water color. Fountain has a great capacity for letting the absurd sneak up on us. His caricature of the Cowboys owner reveals itself only slowly. (And it’s all the funnier if you know, as most of us do, the original in Jerry Jones.) He nails the voice, the self-importance, and the blindness to hypocrisy, and the result is a gradual juxtaposition of a very silly, frighteningly influential man alongside the decency of a common soldier.
The sub-plot of the cheerleaders works brilliantly, too. Against all odds, one beautiful girl is “really into” Billy, and he has to toggle between such extraordinary good fortune and the realization that his commitment to the army will almost certainly take it away from him. She is a dream girl, but he begins to realize she is necessarily just that: a dream who can’t exist in real life, the real life of what the novel calls at one wonderful point, “the best of the bottom third of their generation.” (I may have that quote off a little, but the spirit is there.)
If all those details and that mastery of tone weren’t enough, Fountain also finds a thoroughly satisfying metaphor for the heart of this book. If the idea of a ‘long walk at half-time’ doesn’t quite nail what’s going on, the title does evoke the underlying insight of the book. We’re at a cultural moment when we simply don’t have the apparatus to appreciate the experience of people like Billy, ordinary, even small people who find themselves in the middle of great events they neither understand nor endorse. We’re all caught in spectacle, and the images of our experience threaten to drown out that experience itself.
I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what makes this work so well. It’s a terrific book, and it will be good to see whether Fountain can deliver again next time.
Ben Fountain's short stories "Close Encounters with Che Guevara" was one of my favorite books. This is an experimental novel, with no plot, in a nondescript setting. There are no characters either. There's a movie producer who's a caricature of movie producers. Billy Lynn is a 19-year-old who was given a choice between prison or the army. Beyond that he has no backstory. No other character has a backstory. The soldiers on leave just eat pizza and drink beer and call each other gay. I gave up after 2.5 hours. The writing is good but it's not a novel.
I hesitated to download this book but I found it to be an interesting take on the war. Billy's trip home is alternately funny, sad, and eye opening, and I liked the book. Give it a try.
Ben Fountain’s new novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, has been compared to Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Such comparisons are optimistic.
Billy Lynn's is a light if entertaining read that takes predictable potshots at Texas, former President Bush, conservatives and United States military strategy, the last a subject so complex and so interconnected to political and economic initiatives that many are simply too ill educated to discuss the topic knowledgeably. But that doesn’t stop anyone from trying, which is one of the points of Fountain’s book.
Read Billy Lynn's for entertainment value. Don’t read it thinking it possesses the same brilliance as Catch-22; you’ll most likely be disappointed.
That’s not to say Billy Lynn's isn’t without insight. The book boasts a few wondrous moments (mostly humorous) and some well-crafted passages that prompt serious introspection.
Here’s but one example of a critical thought I suspect Fountain spent quite a bit of time polishing: “How does anyone ever know anything? The past is a fog that breathes out ghost after ghost, the present a freeway thunder run at 90 miles per hour, which makes the future the ultimate black hole of futile speculation.”
That’s good stuff.
It should be noted I found the narration quite good, too. The narrator's timely inflections and regional accents added to my enjoyment of this novel, definitely adding a star to the overall rating.
Oliver Wyman is a vocal genius who hits perfect pitch with this modern war saga. The voices, inflections, blank spaces, sounds of machines and vehicles, add so much to a story that adds color to the fog of war, lays bare the hypocrisy of those who would support veterans and the wars in the Middle East, mocks billionaires, demonstrates the utter tomfoolery of NFL Half Time shows, removes the pom-poms from the Dallas Cheerleaders, and much, much more. War is not glorious, and what better way to illustrate that than through the eyes of a war hero on tour. Trained to be killers, he and his heroic brothers take half time to duke it out with roadies and drunk Cowboys' fans, as negotiations for a biopic and a nymphomaniac distract. What a riot!
Negotiation of a movie deal between the Dallas Cowboys billionaire owner and Billy Lynn's Sergeant.
Billy Lynn's latin fellow Bravo
This Man's Army is No Picnic
Was there a point? As an ex-grunt, admittedly over 40 years in the rearview mirror, I was comfortable with the dialog; we verbally beat each other senseless just for amusement's sake. I kept waiting for the epic conclusion, maybe for the grand philosophical insight...for something. But it never came. The tale just sort of drifted away. Maybe that was the point. I don't know.
Enjoyable story/performance awaiting a conclusion. Any conclusion. Good enough but not memorable. Kind of like Ham & Claymores. Smoke 'em, if you got 'em.
It was a great story! not as action packed as I thought, kind of slow at some points when talking about movie deals. I want a sequel so I can know if they come back and if Billy sees Phaison again. I was sad when it ended
this was a very good story but I had a hard time towards the end to keep staying on with the book. the ending was as well as I could have expected. narration of the story was excellent Oliver did a great job