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
Can't say what drew me to this odd title--I knew that Ben Fountain received the PEN/Hemingway Award for the collection of short stories, Brief Encounters With Che Guevara--but I hadn't read the reviews or the publisher's summary. I didn't know that some critics are calling Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk this era's Catch 22, (oh! did we love Yossarian!) and THE best novel about the Irag war. I just saw this title on a list of suggested Beach Reads; "Beach" and "Read", two of my favorite words, and I was in. Turns out this was an unexpected treasure, the perfect approach, and an experience I won't be forgetting soon. So, I don't want to go into details and ruin your experience other than to say....WOW; I loved this book!
I thought it was almost perfection, from the very concept, to the brilliant depiction of Billy's youthful naivety and his contrasting soldier's wisdom, to the sentence structure, and every perfectly placed word. It was laugh-out-loud funny, then at once sobering, like laughing at someone that just biffed it on the stairs, then realizing the tumble resulted in a compound fracture. There are a lot of cliche's as far as characterizations go, and Texans probably won't like this one, but the powerful message contained in this short read goes far beyond little criticisms--indeed to the very core of what we as Americans value. The detailed description of the football team's equipment (in it's context) was as powerful and perfect as anything written, and could alone justify getting this book.
A short listen, at just 6 1/2 hours, but what an experience--what an impact. I'm just sorry that what I am sure will be the highlight of my summer reading is over before summer even begins.
I loved this book. It's the closest thing to Mark Twain I've read in a long time. Entertaining, poignant, ironic, and a tribute to decent people being manipulated by the charlatans.Then protagonist is a young soldier whose heroism in battle was captured by a Fox news crew. The Army sends him and his buddies on a publicity tour of the US. The high point is their attendance on Thanksgiving day at a Dallas/Chicago football game at Cowboys Stadium. The author does a marvelous job of showing Billy's inner turmoil, knowing he has to go back to the war when the game is over. He meets a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and it's instant love for both of them. Meanwhile, the owner of the Cowboys, a sleazy, manipulative Jerry Jones type, exploits Billy and his buddies, putting them on display in front of the thousands in the stadium and millions watching on t.v., throwing them into a halftime show as props for Beyonce and Destiny's Child.
The author does something few contemporary writers do - skewers American culture and politics while making us care about the individuals - Billy and his fellow soldiers, their families, the girl Billy falls in love with. The Cowboys' owner schemes to screw the soldiers out of their story so he can produce a movie, and the fans start out fawning over the boys, later either ignoring them, or wanting to fight them.
The book made me realize how hollow it must sound to vets to say "thank you for your service and/or sacrifice," and to talk about courage, honor freedom and the American way of life and so on, while 99% of us never serve, and go about our lives worshipping pop culture icons like Beyonce and pro athletes. Or as George W. Bush said, after 9-11, go to Disney World or go shopping.
The narrator does a great job of pacing and portraying the different characters.
This book is destined to become a classic that withstands time, and should be required reading in English classes, like Dickens and Twain.
When the rave reviews started for this book, I was dubious. Not my thing. A story about a 19-year-old Iraqi war vet? And from Texas? And a lot happening at a football game? Please give me another English upper-class mystery.
But I want to learn, expand my horizons, understand other people....and my book club agreed to read it. Was I in for a surprise.
Ben Fountain is a magician cleverly disguised as a writer. The reviews said the sentences were elegant, and they were, but they were more than that: they were transformative. The voice of a young decorated war veteran, describing what he had seen and experienced, and what witnessing the death of his closest friend in battle had done to him. Billy's visit to his own family in Texas, how they see him, their relationships, true, real. Billy's head-over-heels meeting with a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, their sky-rocketing reaction to each other. All the events led up to a conclusion that was not what I expected, but still feels authentic and right.
I've been thinking about Billy Lynn for weeks now. He and Ben Fountain did what great writing is supposed to do. They brought greater understanding and deep sympathy for the book's characters, and a new way of looking at the world. I can honestly say that his is one of the best books I've ever read.
This book is insightful, funny, heartbreaking all at the same time. A modern war masterpiece. And Oliver Wyman's narration is pitch perfect.
Billy Lynn, of course. Too young to drink (legally) yet old enough to have his best friend die in his arms, Billy Lynn has wisdom born of combat. He's still an innocent but not a sucker. His keen assessments of people and events around him provide the beautiful narrative arc of this book.
Oliver Wyman was perfect in every way, especially the way he captured the soldiers of Bravo Company.
Lawyer/law professor , I'm interested in science, history, literature. I can tolerate a bad movie, but not bad writing. I read to learn .
A great satire of the Iraq war and the young men fighting it. A wonderful send up on American values and ignorance of the war's purpose. I loved the whole Dallas Cowboy/money machine riff. I laughed many times at the young soldiers vocabulary and emotions. Great narration. A book better listened to then read.
This one is near the top. I think I enjoyed the audio more than I would have the book - I'd have been tempted to skip over some of the dialog - and definitely wouldn't have had all the voices so distinctly in my head.
Not sure - war and football wouldn't be my go-to kind of book, but I read about this as one of the year's best fiction reads. It didn't disappoint. Amazing, laugh-out-loud funny at times, could bring you to tears at others. I don't have a personal perspective on war, but his depictions of Billy, his friendships, his family, his memories all seem very true to me. I kept thinking that this book would make a great movie - all the while our characters are trying to get their movie made. This speaks volumes to me - a book that takes place in one day at a football game that can develop characters, scenes, conflicts, suspense...enough for a movie is an amazing feat.
No - at times I thought his narration was a bit over the top...unnecessarily.
No - don't think I could sit still for that long, but I definitely had some driveway time as I wanted to finish a particular part.
“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” Steinbeck
Nearly 12 wonderful hours of audio about a day at a Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game which allows the author Ben Fountain to masterfully provide us with a sometime-satirical panoramic view from the seat of Billy Lynn, a U.S. soldier who is flying back to Iraq the following day. He and the fellow members of the heroic Bravo Squad are being recognized as halftime.
We get a cinematic look at
a pro football game;
the war in Iraq and its impact on these young men's lives;
how heroes may be treated after all the hubbub or exploited;
our culture generally, and specifically, in movies and the entertainment (movies and music) industry, big time sports, billionaires blow-hards, the overwhelming emphasis on sex in advertising and television and how our society has reached the point that our press covers no-talent trog-GLAM-mites like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton while ignoring legit stories.
There's a bonus: a near-fantasy sequence when Billy meets a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.
Maybe you hadn't heard of Ben Fountain before this brilliant book was published. Pay attention. I'm not capable of quickly using the vocabulary needed to heap worthy praise upon Ben Fountain and "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk."
So I'll say:
DO NOT MISS THIS BOOK!
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.
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.
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