Jenny's Reviews > Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
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's review
Aug 07, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2012-challenge
Recommended to Jenny by: Greg Mortimer
Read from August 05 to 06, 2012

Nineteen-year-old Billy Lynn of Bravo squad has returned with the remaining 8/10 of Bravo to the U.S. for a two-week "Victory Tour" before redeploying to Iraq for another eleven months. Bravo has traveled around the country, and their trip culminates at a Dallas Cowboys football game on Thanksgiving Day. Billy is able to visit home just briefly, during which time his sister Kathryn begs him to desert; this decision hangs over his head throughout the long day of the game. Billy and Bravo experience the hypocrisy of a nation that shows their gratitude through words, but not actions; a subplot, in which negotiations are in the works for a movie based on Bravo's actions, illustrates this well.

This may well be, as the cover blurb announces, "The Catch-22 of the Iraq War." The writing is sublime; Billy is by turns observant, deeply thoughtful, wry, pained, joyous, terrified - both more and less mature than a nineteen-year-old.


Without ever exactly putting his mind to it, he's come to believe that loss is the standard trajectory. Something new appears in the world...with luck and huge expenditures of soul and effort you might keep the project stoked for a while, but eventually, ultimately, it's going down. This is a truth so brutally self-evident that he can't fathom why it's not more widely perceived, hence his contempt for the usual public outrage when a particular situation goes to hell...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. (11)

He's tempted to raise the subject, but really, what can you say short of everything? as if once you opened your mouth would you even be able to stop... (27)

Every Bravo is a PhD in the art and science of duress. (29)

Americans are incredibly polite as long as they get what they want. (44)

No matter their age or station in life, Billy can't help but regard his fellow Americans as children. (45)

Major Mac...the guy who seems about 60 percent there about 40 percent of the time. (48) pronouncements on the progress of the war were like "being lied to on your tombstone." (61)

He'd say "I love you" to every man in the squad before rolling out...just that brisk declaration like he was tightening the seat belts around everyone's soul. (61)

"Hollywood's a sick, twisted place, I will most certainly grant you that. Corrupt, decadent, full of practicing sociopaths, roughly analogous to, say, the court of Louis the Sun King in seventeenth-century France." (63)

This is truly what he envies of these people, the luxury of terror as a talking point, and at this moment he feels so sorry for himself that he could break right down and cry.
I'm a good soldier, he tells himself. Aren't I a good soldier? So what does it mean when a good soldier feels this bad? (114)

...he wonders by what process virtually any discussion about the war seems to profane these ultimate matters of life and death. As if to talk of such things properly we need a mode of speech near the equal of prayer....They want it to be easy and it's just not going to be. (137)

...the truth of the matter is that boys just want to run around and knock the shit out of each other. This was a mystery that Billy's mother was never able to fathom. (164)

What cards these Bravos are, what a grab-ass band of brothers. Okay, so maybe they aren't the greatest generation by anyone's standard, but they are surely the best of the bottom third percentile of their own muddled and suspect generation. (166)

Abruptly he feels Shroom's loss like an awl in the gut, meanwhile noting on a parallel mental track how grief comes and goes, fattens and thins like the moon freestyling across foreign skies. (197)

Pray for Shroom, who may or may not have eternal life in heaven but who is most definitely fucking dead here on planet Earth. (220)

Billy has these visions sometimes, these brief sightlines into America as a nightmare of superabundance... (220)

A harsh thing for any young man to hear, but this is part of every youth's education in the world, learning the risks are never fully revealed until you commit. (232)

A kind of knowledge, or maybe a bridge thereto - as if existence didn't necessarily have to be a moron's progress of lurching from one damn thing to another? As if you might aspire to some sort of context in your life, a condition he associates with adultness. (249)

How does anyone ever know anything - the past is a fog that breathes out ghost after ghost, the present a freeway thunder run at 90 mph, which makes the future the ultimate black hole of futile speculation. (307)

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