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

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
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's review
Oct 26, 2012

did not like it
bookshelves: shortlisted
Read from October 25 to 26, 2012

There are few things less enjoyable than poorly-written satire, and there are few time periods less interesting to set a book in than the very recent (past decade or so) past. This book manages to combine both of these for a result that’s just as crappy as you’d imagine. It’s satire with all the subtlety of “Goofus and Gallant.”

The plot is simple: a small band of soldiers from Bravo squad (which is a misnomer, but that just shows the MEDIA DOESN’T UNDERSTAND THE MILITARY!) who responded heroically in a firefight in Iraq, and who had a video of that response that went viral, making them wildly popular heroes, are on the final day of a two-week Victory Tour in Dallas, where they are attending the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving game before shipping back to Iraq, because football + Thanksgiving + Texans = super ‘Merica. The soldiers don’t really know what they’re doing there, because they aren’t told (see, man – it’s JUST LIKE THE WAR ITSELF!), and so they just sort of meander around, drinking a lot and having a bunch of really rich, stupid Texas stereotypes (doing everything but yelling “Yee-haw!” while firing six-shooters into the air and jangling their oil-covered spurs) tell them how proud they are of them, and how much they support the war, and how they all know President Bush. Because a decade or so later, it’s incredibly trenchant to note that rich Texans had a lot of influence with Bush and Cheney. (It’s time for me to fast track my book about how Deep Blue Something may not be the hit machine that “What About Breakfast at Tiffany’s” song might have had us believe.)

Our protagonist, Billy Flynn, is the 19-year-old soldier who played a key role in the fight, and despite his lack of formal education, he’s constantly disappearing into lengthy interior monologues referencing Sumerians and Turkmen and words like “homogenous,” monologues in which he muses about America and things like how football players have, like, so much equipment and stuff, and sometimes jackets are expensive, and how America’s like one big mall with a country attached, man, and other such insights that would get you laughed out of a freshman sociology class at Antioch.

In the meantime, the men of Bravo are working with a Hollywood producer who’s trying to sell their story who keeps coming over with stupid updates like “Hilary Swank’s interested now!”, which just leads Billy to have more stupid, second-grade-level thoughts about how Hollywood’s built on lies and stuff, man, more fake than real! It’s supposed to satirize the American public and what it means to support the troops, but forced ridiculousness like involving the soldiers in a halftime show featuring Destiny’s Child or having Billy and a Cowboys cheerleader fall in love in a five-hour period is a plot device I might expect in one of the lesser episodes of “Perfect Strangers,” not in a novel that’s getting rave reviews across the board and being compared to Catch-22. If you want clever satire and something enjoyable to read, skip this and pick up anything Evelyn Waugh ever wrote instead.

But, Ben Fountain, way to tell us that the Iraq war is bad, and to stick it to President Bush 10 years after that mattered. That’s powerful stuff.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Paula Thank you. I was starting to think there was something wrong with me for not liking this book. You forgot to mention how dreadfully slow-paced it was!

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Thanks for this. I am about 2/3rds of the way through this book and I just hate it for pretty much all these reasons. I was also starting to feel crazy about my response in the face of its unanimously positive reception.

Kyla Yes. Exactly.

Katie Hanson I share the exact same sentiments and for all the very same reasons mentioned: Fountain's forcing Holden Caulfield into fatigues and slapping M'rican flags all over the Southeast just screams parody instead of satire. I'm only finishing this book on the principle that once I pick it up, I'm committed until the end.

Emily I actually really liked this book, but I usually hate notable literary fiction and in a parallel universe where I didn't like it, I think it would be for exactly the reasons you name.

Carol Storm Brilliant review! God, how I hated this book. Hated it!

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