National Book Critics Circle Award, Fiction, 2013
A ferocious firefight with Iraqi insurgents at "the battle of Al-Ansakar Canal" - three minutes and forty-three seconds of intense warfare caught on tape by an embedded Fox News crew - has transformed the eight surviving men of Bravo Squad into America's most sought-after heroes. For the past two weeks, the Bush administration has sent them on a media-intensive nationwide Victory Tour to reinvigorate public support for the war.
Now, on this chilly and rainy Thanksgiving, the Bravos are guests of America's Team, the Dallas Cowboys, slated to be part of the halftime show alongside the superstar pop group Destiny's Child.
Among the Bravos is the Silver Star-winning hero of Al-Ansakar Canal, Specialist William Lynn, a nineteen-year-old Texas native. Amid clamoring patriots sporting flag pins on their lapels and "Support Our Troops" bumper stickers on their cars, the Bravos are thrust into the company of the Cowboys' hard-nosed businessman/owner and his coterie of wealthy colleagues; a luscious born-again Cowboys cheerleader; a veteran Hollywood producer; and supersized pro players eager for a vicarious taste of war. Among these faces Billy sees those of his family - his worried sisters and broken father - and Shroom, the philosophical sergeant who opened Billy's mind and died in his arms at Al-Ansakar.
Over the course of this day, Billy will begin to understand difficult truths about himself, his country, his struggling family, and his brothers-in-arms - soldiers both dead and alive. In the final few hours before returning to Iraq, Billy will drink and brawl, yearn for home and mourn those missing, face a heart-wrenching decision, and discover pure love and a bitter wisdom far beyond his years.
Poignant, riotously funny, and exquisitely heartbreaking, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a devastating portrait of our time, a searing and powerful novel that cements Ben Fountain's reputation as one of the finest writers of his generation.
©2012 Ben Fountain (P)2012 HarperCollinsPublishers
There will be a movie released this year that can't possibly be as good as the book. I have listened multiple times because the reader and the material are a perfect match. The imagery and undercurrent here are humorous in a cynical way. It's Texas, the Bush years, patriotism of the saddest kind, Cowboy football, good 'ol boys, and the young, handsome Billy Lynn, a pawn of the machine along with his compatriots from Alpha Company. Great novel, and great reading. Please write another novel, Ben Fountain!
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.
This is a sharp, hilarious and heartbreaking satire, beautifully performed (not just read) by Oliver Wyman. I enjoyed every minute of this book.
Usually war books don't do it for me. But this story is so wholly different, I not only enjoyed it, but recommended to to several people. The entire story takes place on Thanksgiving Day, when Billy and his crew are attending a Cowboys game before deploying back to Iraq. Although everything unfolds over one day, the author manages to weave in a lot of other threads - about their time in Iraq, about the friendship the guys share, about the family drama on the home-front. It's a cleverly constructed story, but what I enjoyed most was the humor - both in the form of dialogue between the soldiers (which may offend some because it's f-bomb heavy, but it rang true and hilarious to me), and the more subtle humor, which the author used to deliver an almost-under-the-radar political commentary.
Never read the print version. I imagine this version is better because Oliver Wyman is such a damn good reader.
Catch-22, humor, sadness, satire
So many wonderful character voices. he is a one-of-a-kind reader. His reading made this one of the best audiobooks I have ever listened to, out of about twenty.
"Oh, My People"
way up there
the image-packed prose
I'm not sure. Did he do The Art of Fielding?
there were many
sometimes -- and this may be because I listened to the book -- I felt the prose got very packed with images and details. Obviously good images and good details make for a literary experience, but there were places where the author waxed when I wish he'd waned. But the guy is a tremendous writer and deserves all the praise he got for this book. It's not a rollicking narrative, but it is a beautiful example of meditative prose. The interiority of the novel is amazing and you can tell the author is somebody who really thinks and ruminates and this is why he is to be treasured.
Soldiers meet home front
the tour of the equipment room and the locker room
there are too many to isolate
I found this book familiar, funny and sad. It has very interesting incites on domestic patriotism in contemporary American (Texan) Society. Everyone loves the troops, to the extent they can leverage them or co-brand. I was in the military and ther perspective is definitely familiar.
I had heard so much buzz about this book, I expected to love it or at least laugh out loud at moments. Billy Lynn is ok. Fountain wants us to believe that Billy Lynn is really struggling with returning to Iraq after coming back to the US on leave after a significant skirmish victory. The problem is that there really never seemed to be a question as to whether or not he would return with his squad; just that he is getting some pressure from his sister to act a certain way. That said, the main conflict was not believable for me. What was more intriguing was 19 year old Billy's observations of successful businessmen and what it took for them to succeed. This seemed to provide impetuous for Billy, perhaps for the first time, to think about his long term future, not just day by day living. Billy Lynn is not a bad book; I just think that it was overhyped.
While there were flashes of insight and some well-turned phrases, the majority of this book was a bit of a tedious read. Same old, same old relevations about war, America, etc., with a bit of cheerleader fantasy added in. I really did not like the story itself, but I loved the narrator's delivery. He was able to capture each character with an entirely different voice and persona, which made this a far more tolerable listening experience.
This book just kept getting better. The novel takes place in one day, at one football game. The more I listened, the more surprises and turns of plot. The author has a great feel for 2004 and life in Texas and football and film agents and guys on teams and, yes, young love. The narrator was very strong, good with his characters' voices. I will read The Yellow Birds next, the other highly praised Iraq war novel--but this one was entertaining and insightful. Very sympathetic characters too.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.