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

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
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May 28, 12

Read from May 23 to 28, 2012

It is, perhaps, a fortuitous accident that I turned the last pages of Ben Fountain’s absolutely brilliant novel during Memorial Day…a day when rhetoric about courage, support, sacrifice, and patriotism overflows.

Billy Lynn – the eponymous hero of this book – is a genuine American hero. He and his fellow Bravo Squad members decimated an insurgency – caught on film by an embedded Fox News crew -- and became overnight sensations in a nation starved for good news about Iraq. They are brought home for a media-intensive “Victory Tour” – in cities that happen to lie in an electoral swing state -- to reinvigorate support for the war. We meet them at the end of that tour, on a rainy Thanksgiving, hosted by America’s Team, The Dallas Cowboys.

They are, in more ways than one, anonymous to an American public; their reinvented names are meant to erase their identity (Major Mac, Mango, Lodes, Billy, etc.) In the fabled Texas Stadium, their faces are interspersed on a JumboTron screen with ads for Chevy cars and Cowboy-brand toaster ovens and high-capacity ice-makers.

Surrounded by so-called patriots, Billy and his friends are bombarded with words stripped of meaning: “rerrRist, currj, freedom, nina leven, Bush, values, support.” Billy reflects: “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.”

The people that surround him are insatiably expecting Billy to impart wisdom in sound bites. Amid a world of plenty, multi-millionaires who have never put themselves in harm’s way let loose a stream of platitudes but Billy “truly envies these people, the luxury of terror as a talking point…” At another point, he reflects, “Never do Americans sound so much like a bunch of drunks as when they are celebrating at the end of their national anthem.”

Nineteen-year-old Billy – still a virgin, with major lust going on for a Cowboys cheerleader who believes that cheerleading is a “spiritual calling” – has the necessary replies to inane questions down pat. He is as real as he can be, as American as he can be.

And in this way, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk –marketed as a satire and blurbed as a new Catch-22 – is anything but. There is nothing surreal about it; in fact, it is an entirely apt portrayal of the times we live in. I thought this book was absolutely brilliant – well-crafted, filled with insight and wisdom, and heart-wrenching. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it the quintessential American novel, asking that all-important question: who are we and what do we want to become?

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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Teresa (new) - added it

Teresa Lukey I'm getting ready to read this one.


Jill Great -- we can read it at the same time!


Jill Oh, I'm loving this one! Cuts right through the bullshit and dewy-eyed slogans...


message 5: by Teresa (new) - added it

Teresa Lukey Jill wrote: "Oh, I'm loving this one! Cuts right through the bullshit and dewy-eyed slogans..."

I'm finding it amusing, I love me some good sarcasm.


Will Byrnes I loved this one. It is one of the top books of 2012. Outstanding review, per usual.


Jill I owe you a specific thanks because I might have easily overlooked it had I not read your excellent review. And I agree -- it's one of my top 2012 books as well. Reading it over the Memorial Day weekend was particularly timely.


Emily Crowe I loved this book, too, and I think it's the first novel that can qualify as important that I've read this year. Add in some humor and the writing that leaves you gobsmacked, and we're talking a very good book, indeed. It's gonna be shortlisted come prize season next year.


Jill I sure hope so, Emily. I'm waiting for the fall-out from those who will call it "anti-American." To me, it is quintessential American and a very important read.


Stuart I'm going to take a gander at it.


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

Jill Sure hope you do, Stuart!


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