Jeff Scott's Reviews > Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
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's review
Aug 20, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: iraq-war, war
Read from August 09 to 20, 2012

Ben Fountain’s book analyzes war through a young soldier’s eyes. Billy Lynn, a character that sounds and feels very much like Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, is suddenly thrust into the limelight. Soldiers from his unit are the heroes of the war in Iraq after a televised firefight where Billy played a key role. A victory tour is scheduled culminating in an appearance at the Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys football game half-time show starring Destiny’s Child. Along the way, Billy will meet all sorts of people big and small and find out what a soldier is worth.

What lies at the heart of the book is the irony of how these soldiers are treated. Billy Lynn has a soldier’s questioning with a lyrical perspective. His moral compass and confident Shroom was killed in the firefight that made him famous. He now must go on the Victory Tour and meet major movers and shakers who want to use his fame for their own purpose. Praised for bravery in the field, but when a soldier returns, there is a minimum wage job waiting for them. These soldiers made everyone proud and everyone wants a piece of them, even wanting to make a movie about them. Yet as the book progresses, they are revealed to be treated as pawns by others, but never will take advantage of it themselves. They are to make others look good and then it is back to Iraq for them.

I picked up this book since I’ve been reading a lot of books about soldiers lately. I’ve read What it is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, and Lethal Warriors by David Phillips. It’s the last book that brought me to Billy Lynn. I felt that Fountain really captures how a soldier feels coming back from the war. It’s like they are an alien no one can possibly understand. Just like Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, soldiers can often have more connection with fellow soldiers and even enemy soldiers than homeland civilians. This book seems to emphasize that point. It’s a wonderful portrayal of alienation.

Favorite Lines:

“All the fakeness just rolls right off them, maybe because the nonstop sales job of American life has instilled in them exceptionally high thresholds for sham, puff, spin, bullshit, and outright lies, in other words advertising in all its forms. Billy himself never noticed how fake it all is until he’d done time in a combat zone.” P. 131
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