Will Byrnes's Reviews > Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
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Mar 01, 2013

it was amazing
bookshelves: books-of-the-year-2012
Read on January 09, 2012

UPDATE - 3/1/13 - at bottom

It is early in the latest Iraq war. SPC Billy Lynn, a 19-year-old, silver-star-recipient and bona fide war hero, is about to be honored at the Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving home game, along with seven other members of Bravo company, for bravery in a battle that had the benefit of a Fox news crew with plenty of film. He is also the window through which we get a hard look at the reality of millennial America. That Ben Fountain succeeds so well in making Billy work both as a character in his own right and a literary mechanism speaks to the extraordinary talent on display.

Billy has killed enemy combatants and has lost close friends. He has endured a difficult family life in which his wheelchair-bound father sought refuge from his disappointments in alcohol and bitterness. His maturity emerges when he ponders larger philosophical questions or sees through some of the shallowness and hypocrisy around him. But he is also an innocent, a virgin in many ways. Billy’s innocence displays when he is smitten with one of the Cowboy cheerleaders. He is looking for people to believe in, to trust, to admire, to help him figure out how the world works. One of the men he most admired died in his arms. Another is with him on the tour, Sergeant Dime, 24, a smart, tough soldier equipped with a highly refined bullshit detector. At the stadium Billy, seriously wanting to find out how things work in the world, wanders from adult to adult like a lost chick asking “are you my mother?” This dichotomy makes sense in a young man who has seen so much. We expect him to be uneven

The story takes place in a single day, following Bravo from their arrival at Texas Stadium to their departure at day’s end. The half-time festivities, of which they are a part, include multiple marching bands, firefight-level pyrotechnics and a performance by Destiny’s Child. Bravo is accompanied by a military minder, a corporate escort and a Hollywood producer who is trying to put together a major film about their exploits.

There are violent roadies, Cowboy cheerleaders, football players of questionable moral makeup, obnoxious fans, corporate lizards and lots and lots of people who thank Bravo for their service. Alcohol will be consumed. Weed will be smoked. Sex will be had. You will, on occasion, laugh out loud.

Siting the story in Texas is no accident. America’s team hosts America’s heroes. Dubyah has sent these boys around the country to boost morale, and more importantly, political and popular support. Theirs is a PR-for-the-war tour.
They hate our freedoms? Yo, they hate our actual guts. Billy suspects his fellow Americans secretly know better, but something in the land is stuck on teenage drama, on extravagant theatrics of ravaged innocence and soothing mud wallows of self-justifying pity.
But the soldiers know that they are mere pawns:
“Everybody supports the troops,” [Sergeant] Dime woofs, “Support the troops, support the troops, hell yeah we’re so fucking PROUD of our troops, but when it comes to actual money? Like somebody might have to come out of pocket for the troops? Then all the sudden we’re on everybody’s tight-ass budget. Talk is cheap. I got that, but gimme a break. Talk is cheap but money screams.
This is not a cheery depiction of America. Warts are on display, maybe on the Jumbotron along with videos of Bravo in battle, and ads for everything. It is the nation in microcosm, with the soldiers just another prop pumping up the consumer to buy product, whether that be deodorant, sex or a nifty new war.

By creating a relatable character in Billy Lynn, and casting a smart, analytical eye over the world he portrays, Ben Fountain has succeeded in producing a brilliant book. This is not only a sharp look at America and its values, considering, among other things, the origins of the Bible, how Hollywood is like the court of Louis the Sun King, sporting events as ads for ads, elements of spectacle as catalysts for tribal violence, fear as the mother of all emotion, and profiteering in war. It offers as well recognition of innocence and optimism in this everyman, a character who, despite having stared into the abyss, still nurtures very American dreams of a rosy future, if only he can survive long enough to pursue it.

UPDATES

5/7/12 - Janet Maslin's great review in the NY Times

10/10/12 - Billy is nominated for a National Book Award - Hooah!

1/16/13 - Billy is named a finalist for the New York Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.

2/4/13 - This is more of a PS than an actual update:
Billy Lynn popped into my mind, on a very big screen, during the Superbowl last night. It was not a stretch to see in the NFL's use of Sandy Hook survivors a cynical attempt to associate themselves with warm and fuzzy, America and apple pie, just as was done with Bravo Company in the novel--that Beyonce, and even Destiny's Child performed added resonance to the association with Ben Fountain's magnificent book--all the while promoting a sport that celebrates violence. The irony, or is it rank hypocrisy, was gag-worthy.

3/1/13 - Billy wins the National Book Critics Circle 2012 award
for fiction
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04/07 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-37 of 37) (37 new)

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message 1: by knig (new) - added it

knig This book is not out in the UK until July 2012. I can't fathom the machievellian thinking of the publishing world. Anyway, on my list now, great review.


Will Byrnes Thanks Knig-o-lass. The book is not out here either. I managed to secure an ARE.


message 3: by J (new)

J I just pre-ordered it Will. Thank you


Will Byrnes You won't be sorry.


Sarah Fay Great review - I'm putting it on my list!


message 6: by Nancy (new) - added it

Nancy Wonderful review, Will!


Will Byrnes Thanks, Nancy


Jill I just read Janet Maslin's review minutes ago -- and here's a BETTER review from you! I had noticed -- and discounted this -- because I thought it was another sports and war story. Seems as if it's far more than that. Now I definitely want to read it.


Will Byrnes That is very kind of you, Jill. Maybe she will provide a link to mine?


message 10: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura Will - Your reviews are unparalleled. The New York Times would be wise to knock your door down to publish what you generate and offer. I have never enjoyed such introductions to books as through your writings. Your insights, summaries, and "way with words" are on point, entertaining, and poignant. Your work is amazing!!


message 11: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes You guys are so nice, oh pshaw.


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

"Sex will be had. You will, on occasion, laugh out loud....This is not only a sharp look at America and its values, considering, among other things, the origins of the Bible, how Hollywood is like the court of Louis the Sun King, sporting events as ads for ads, elements of spectacle as catalysts for tribal violence, fear as the mother of all emotion, and profiteering in war. It offers as well recognition of innocence and optimism in this everyman, a character who, despite having stared into the abyss, still nurtures very American dreams of a rosy future, if only he can survive long enough to pursue it."

Okay, I'm warning you in advance I will plagiarize some lines from this review. Let me know when you expect your computer to crash for a couple weeks, and I'll figure out a way to paste your work into one of my own reviews. (:


message 13: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes I have had that feeling myself more than a few times when reading other reviews. What I do these days is post a link at the bottom of mine, as I did here, with Janet Maslin's.

And I have seen some of your reviews, Steve. There is no need. :-)


message 14: by Jill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jill Will, I'm more than half-way done and I think the book is brilliant. I'm totally loving it. Reminds me of Tom Wolfe at his peak.


message 15: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Yep


message 16: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks Claire. It just jumped out at me.


Sarah Fay I finally read this book, Will, and agree it was five star. I don't think I can capture it better than you did here so will just reference your review. Thanks for the inspiration to read it!


message 18: by Jeffrey (new) - added it

Jeffrey Keeten This sounds like a book that fits in with what I've been reading The Yellow Birdsthis year.

I've been smitten by a few cheerleaders in my day as well. I was in the Oakland airport one time and the Oakland Cheerleaders came into the terminal filling the air with pheromones. It was nearly a religious experience. haha

Well done Will. Compelling as always.


message 19: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks J-e-f-f-r-e-y Goooooooooo Jeffrey


Cathy DuPont Laura wrote: "Will - Your reviews are unparalleled. The New York Times would be wise to knock your door down to publish what you generate and offer. I have never enjoyed such introductions to books as through..."

Will: I must ditto Laura's comments rather than re-write or re-word them. She said it all.

My only question is was this really done 'promo tours' for the war?

So glad you selected this to place in your review:

But the soldiers know that they are mere pawns:

“Everybody supports the troops,” [Sergeant] Dime woofs, “Support the troops, support the troops, hell yeah we’re so fucking PROUD of our troops, but when it comes to actual money?....


Let out a big sigh after reading that and had to re-read it. Very sad but so true, in my opinion.

Laura said it first, message 10, and I agree, "Your work is amazing!!"


message 21: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Oh pshaw

I do not know if such promo tours were done for Iraq #1

They were certainly done for other conflicts. The examples that pop to mind are Flags of Our Fathers and the miniseries Pacific. And many sporting venues have special days when they honor our armed forces people, whether in support of a particular conflict or not. I suppose one might note that ever since World War II the singing/playing of the national anthem at all MLB games might be a low-grade form of this, as it was intended to bolster national pride during that conflict.


message 22: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Chelsea


message 23: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne King what a superb review Will.


message 24: by Cathy (last edited Feb 04, 2013 04:08AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cathy DuPont Great review, Will, saying that once again; I still need to write my review. A powerfully written book which gave me much to think. I cannot get the book off my mind.

Thought about it last night when I saw those sweet children from Sandy Hook choir singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl.

A bit off the topic of the war but it's my opinion that most likely the majority of the attendees at the event last night are proponents of NRA and all it stands for.

Any thoughts?


message 25: by Lawyer (last edited Feb 04, 2013 06:17AM) (new)

Lawyer A wonderful review, Will. I've yet to read it, but will certainly get to it. As Sir Geoffrey commented, I also recommend The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. From a different war, I recommend The Eleventh Man by Ivan Doig, which lends credence to the idea that our country did have its "Greatest Generation." Doig follows a championship football team through WWII, a morale booster for the folks back home. Heart rending and poignant.


message 26: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks Mike. I do have Yellow Birds in the house somewhere. I will have to add it to the twin towers on my night table


message 27: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason wonderful review, per usual. this one is on my radar. and I your 2/4 update.


message 28: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks Jason. Billy is still in the running for this and that award. I will update when I come across relevant info. It is a must read, IMHO.


message 29: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason Will wrote: "Thanks Jason. Billy is still in the running for this and that award. I will update when I come across relevant info. It is a must read, IMHO."


so many books, so little time. my hope is to complete snow child in the last few days.


message 30: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes I know. We are all buried under mounds of must reads. The hazard of being a reader.


Cathy DuPont Book winning does not surprise me...best book I've read in years. Need to 'buckle down' and write review.

Again, Will, loved this review and all you do.


message 32: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, CD


message 33: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason I'm so getting this one for my sister and I will probably steal it.


message 34: by Cathy (last edited Nov 29, 2013 03:46PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cathy DuPont Jas wrote: "I'm so getting this one for my sister and I will probably steal it."

Jas...better yet, read it THEN give it to her. It was so very, very good.


message 35: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason Cathy wrote: "Jas wrote: "I'm so getting this one for my sister and I will probably steal it."

Jas...better yet, read it THEN give it to her. I was so very, very good."


i have the kindle version... ha... ill get her the hardback, though.


message 36: by Glynn (new) - added it

Glynn Thanks for the review. I'll take a look at this.


Perry I love this little novel. I hope they keep it real with the upcoming movie.


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