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.
If you're in the mood for effectively written, heart-wrenching contemporary stories that might well leave you feeling sad, this is the collection for you. Note, I listened to the audiobook version, which earns an extra star for the author's earnest narration efforts.
Perrotta's stories are first rate. I repeatedly found myself drawn to his characters, sympathizing with their broken relationships and celebrating their triumphs, however subtle. The collection is so good I'm sorry to have finished.
Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation is a tight, compact collection of letters written to her husband. I listened to the work as an audiobook. I felt as if I were hearing someone read intimate journal entries. I was reminded of a really long but highly polished Moth reading. Overall, I enjoyed the experience and found myself referring back to phrases and passages from the book, always a good sign the author's done something right.
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