National Book Critics Circle Award, Fiction, 2013
Nineteen-year-old Billy Lynn is home from war. Back in Texas, he has become a national celebrity. A Fox News crew filmed Billy and the rest of Bravo squad defeating Iraqi insurgents in a ferocious fire fight. Now Billy is a decorated soldier and Bravo's three minutes of extreme bravery under fire is a YouTube sensation. Seizing on this PR gift, the Bush administration has sent the surviving members of Bravo on a nationwide 'Victory Tour' to reassure the folks at home. Today, during the final hours of the tour, they arrive at Texas Stadium, guests of honour as the Dallas Cowboys take on the Chicago Bears in a nationally broadcast Thanksgiving Day game.
The story follows Billy and his fellow Bravos through a climactic afternoon, as they mix with the rich and powerful, endure the politics and affections of their fellow citizens, aspire to sex and marriage with the famous Cowboys cheerleaders, share centre stage with Destiny's Child during the halftime extravaganza, and attempt to close a movie deal with the help of a veteran Hollywood producer. They will learn hard truths about love and death, family and friendship, duty and honour. Tomorrow, they must go back to war.
©2012 Ben Fountain (P)2012 Canongate Books Ltd
Moving further from work extended my daily commute... thank God for Audible.
I really struggled through this. And when I finally reached the end, I questioned why I’d bothered.
I have so many issues with this book, I’m not quite sure where to start. Here are my four biggest gripes:
1. The characters are all carbon-copy versions of themselves, so in a book filled with dozens of main players, they become almost indistinguishable from each other. This really prevented me from giving a damn what happened to any of them. It also doesn’t help that they’re all unlikable… this may have been the authors intention(?) but I need to have at least one character that I care about.
2. There is no plot. No seriously. None. The entire 12h of reading time is set at a single football game, and the same trite dialogue that appears in the first chapter gets recycled for the entire duration. Actually that’s a little unfair. The dialogue doesn’t sound tired immediately… the staleness kicks in somewhere around the fourth hour. I kept waiting for the “halftime” of the title, as I assumed some kind of plot development would occur with the “halftime walk”. Halftime arrived three-quarters of the way through the book. Nothing happened… I still have no idea what the “walk” in the title is referring to. And then the book ended. There is one brief, shining moment in the story, when our protagonist has a flashback to himself returning to his family home after some time at war. This was, by far, the best part of the book and I wish we’d spent more time in those scenes. But, alas, it lasted less than one chapter and we were flung back into the banal, inane world of soldiers at a football game.
3. The performance by Oliver Wyman was good but for one significant grievance. Wyman has quite a masculine voice, so his impersonations of the female characters left me with this odd sensation that Billy Lynn’s world is filled with butch soldiers, tough footballers and drag queens.
4. The books message about the role of war in the American psyche was so overwrought and so overdone, I felt I was being bashed over the head. There is nothing subtle or subversive about this at all.
I would not recommend this book to anyone. Just read the synopsis and you get the message: war is messed-up; war is controlled by people who aren’t personally at risk; young men and women make huge personal sacrifices to protect freedoms that everyone else takes for granted; war is confusing and messy and awful and ethically dubious and morally conflicting. The End.
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