I think that unusual narrative devices often result in critics thinking something is highly literary despite large, sucking chest wounds elsewhere in...moreI think that unusual narrative devices often result in critics thinking something is highly literary despite large, sucking chest wounds elsewhere in the work. Fountain here uses a stream of consciousness narrative to portray a few short days in the life of Billy Lynn, Iraq War hero and PTSD soldier. In select passages SoC works incredibly well to illustrate how vets may think about war and how they might interact with oozingly patriotic, everyman Americans who like to quote news terms and choose not to think intelligently and comprehensively about the nature of war.
My biggest issue with this novel is that one cannot base an entire work on a couple of well-written sentences. Over the course of 307 pages the SoC horrifyingly illustrates that almost nothing is happening in terms of plot, and that all the author's time spent in Billy's head has left all but a few of the other characters stuck in a 2D world. Part of Bravo squad, a group of 10 soldiers who were stuck in a firefight, each of the remaining 9 non-Billy characters becomes interchangeable and largely forgettable, defeating the author's own purpose of making the experience of war intimate and psychological.
It does not take long to start hating being in Billy's head, and hoping that he will find a way out as well becomes increasingly worse as it quickly becomes apparent that nothing is happening and the narrative is not moving forward.
As for the novel being accessible to a wide range of readers, I'm left wondering who I would recommend this to at all. Many female readers might not be interested in a novel that focuses on an all-male military unit, the lead up to a football game, the football game, the leaving after a football game, and a bunch of aging, balding, rich men talking about Ponzi Hollywood movie schemes. Many vets are, perhaps, not looking for a book that will help them intensely remember the feeling of war and loss, so I'm left thinking that only non-military men who are bitter about the Iraq wars are perhaps the only interested readership.
Lastly, the depiction of women in this novel is a fairly strong reason for me to advocate against recommending this book to readers.
When a love interest does arise for Billy, she is an uber-supportive Dalls cheerleader whose patriotism is so ebullient she orgasms on the main character within minutes of meeting him. That, through the course of a football game, Billy would get this girl to declare her love and say that she will wait for him when he goes back to Iraq is disgustingly stupid and insulting to the whole gender. While Fountain's point may have been that male soldiers get into a certain pattern of thinking about women, that does not explain that the other female characters in the novel are Billy's mother (an abused drunk) and sister (disfigured from a car accident, yet he still finds her sexually attractive). In this book, Fountain, or at least Billy, finds women to only be sex objects, inferior characters, or incestuous sex objects.
I'm all for more books that explain the horrors of war. Perhaps some day we can understand what it is truly about through means other than explosive and firearms. Except for a few truly good sentences, this book has far more to discredit it than recommend it, and it is not the novel I would use to explore the natures of war and peace.(less)
Rarely do you find a book whose story can legitimately justify every word. I don't think Wein's story has a single syllable that isn't necessary to th...moreRarely do you find a book whose story can legitimately justify every word. I don't think Wein's story has a single syllable that isn't necessary to the story. The text reads brilliantly, not only as an exercise in narration, but as a work of art as well. I could not trip over myself fast enough to gobble up the story, while at the same time luxuriating in the details, the characters, and the history of the novel. Yet while so much of the reading built me up with suspense, I'd love to read this novel again and again.
The nature of this work crosses a lot of boundaries in readers' advisory, and I will absolutely put this in my mental tool belt to recommend to all types of readers. On top of that, I feel like Wein has dropped an enormous gift to readers by creating such marvelous, brave, fantastic, and human female characters. Without going on and on about how beautiful they are, that they're princesses, or that their lives were difficult but then they met A MAN. On behalf of librarians the world over who are looking for good female characters in fiction, a million thanks.(less)
I really wanted to love this book. This is the second time I've tried to read it. The concept of a small (tiny) country fighting to afford enough cand...moreI really wanted to love this book. This is the second time I've tried to read it. The concept of a small (tiny) country fighting to afford enough candles and teen royalty trying to keep it real is, in theory, engaging. However, the journal format, while friendly, was also unexciting and slow moving.(less)
I was completely turned off by the overly grave and "important" Greek chorus effect that framed the narrative. I have loved other works by Levithan, b...moreI was completely turned off by the overly grave and "important" Greek chorus effect that framed the narrative. I have loved other works by Levithan, but the structure of this story stopped me cold. Too calculated.(less)