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Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
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Nov 12 Billy Lynn Walk/Fountain > Billy Lynn... — First Quarter ("The Thing Begins" to "By Virtue of Which...")

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Daniel | 724 comments Mod
This thread is for discussion of the first quarter of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: A Novel (from "The Thing Begins" to "By Virtue of Which..."). I'm throwing out a few questions to give ideas for discussion, but feel free to jump in with whatever strikes your fancy.

What do you think about the smattering of misspelled words that assault us right off the bat (like "terrRst" and "nina leven")?

Are we concerned on some level that these soldiers might not have become national heroes without the media? What about Hollywood planning to ride on the coattails of the soldiers' bravery?

In the chapter "It is Mostly in Your Head...", Billy notes that "prolonged and intimate exposure to death is what’s required to fully inhabit one’s present life," and "the war makes him wish for a little more than the loose jaw and dull stare of the well-fed ruminant." What do you make of these statements in light of the interactions between soldiers and civilians in the book?


Casceil | 812 comments Mod
I assume the misspelled words are there to give the impression of the locals' accents, and to emphasize how the names, like 9-11, have have become shorthand symbols for ideas, reducing complicated concepts to something simpler.


Will (wjmcomposer) | 615 comments Well, it's a pretty common feeling I hear from guys coming back, and pretty common historically from citizen-soldiers returning from combat from any era to view the citizen-non-soldier (in essence themselves in a previous existence) as a different species, a type of ruminant. Also, severe trauma of any sort causes such massive and measurable brain change in the form of entirely new synaptic structures, survivors of natural disasters, combat, or other intense traumatic survivals report the sensation of their own homes and families feeling and even physically different. Oftentimes we chalk this up to some sort of fancy metaphysical or philosophical change in the survivor, when in fact it's a real, physical difference. There's a new book on the subject (can you tell I've been into this type of brain science for years?) that looks fascinating called Surviving Survival  The Art and Science of Resilience, an interview with the author I saw just last night.


Catherine (catjackson) Will wrote: "Well, it's a pretty common feeling I hear from guys coming back, and pretty common historically from citizen-soldiers returning from combat from any era to view the citizen-non-soldier (in essence ..."

Will, thanks for recommending this book. It looks like just the thing I need to read. I've done work with the Red Cross as a chaplain dealing with issues of survival and recovery after natural disasters. It looks like it may add to my knowledge base.


Will (wjmcomposer) | 615 comments Since you mention it, you might find some interest in understanding issues adjunctly related to survivorship and brain science, and though it's about depression, you might also be interested in The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. Perhaps also to those involved with the recent David Foster Wallace reads on this and other groups.


Daniel | 724 comments Mod
Casceil wrote: "I assume the misspelled words are there to give the impression of the locals' accents, and to emphasize how the names, like 9-11, have have become shorthand symbols for ideas, reducing complicated ..."

My thoughts are much the same, and it really impressed me that the author could pack so much conceptual meaning into the device of a misspelled word. The "something simpler" you talk about is probably the most interesting part for me. I saw it as words being stripped of nuance so they can be employed as a sort of war chant or political code word. It's sort of the difference between wanting to understand what 9-11 meant—nationally, globally, politically, socially, emotionally—and using "nina leven" solely and exclusively as a means to express the need for military action or vengeance. That's my read on the misspelling, anyways. Did anyone have a different take?


Will (wjmcomposer) | 615 comments @ Daniel - agreed!


Casceil | 812 comments Mod
The other thing about the misspelled words is the way they appear in a cloud, separate from the text. I took this to suggest that they were a constant background noise in Billy's head. But what he is hearing in his head is not the plain words -- 9/11, terrorist, courage-- but the way he hears those words from the Americans back home, particularly the Texans surrounding him at this football game. "nina leven," "terrRist," "currj." Like the people around him are throwing these words around without any real understanding of what they mean to soldiers on the ground in Iraq.


Daniel | 724 comments Mod
Casceil wrote: "...Like the people around him are throwing these words around without any real understanding of what they mean to soldiers on the ground in Iraq."

That's an excellent point to tease out as well. The difference between the world view of the soldier and the civilian occupies our notice from the very start of the book, and the fog of catchwords—the constant background noise you point out—seems to work very well in creating a visual and conceptual gap between the two.


Deborah | 859 comments Mod
I don't usually feel like I miss much by opting for an audio format, but here I feel like maybe I did.


Daniel | 724 comments Mod
Deborah wrote: "I don't usually feel like I miss much by opting for an audio format, but here I feel like maybe I did."

I didn't even think about how that would work (or not) in an audio format. Did they just read the words in a senseless jumble? Although that still wouldn't convey the inventive spelling variations.


Deborah | 859 comments Mod
I don't remember which means they probably just read it.


Daniel | 724 comments Mod
Allen & Unwin have an excerpt posted online at http://www.allenandunwin.com/_uploads.... Scroll down to the second page of text and you'll at least get an idea of how the words are laid out in these sections.


Salome (Salome175) Hi All, I liked reading everyone's different take on the words at the beginning of the book. I also took the "word cloud" to be a sign of the character's youth and his struggle to make sense of his overwhelming situation. I took it as a text-message diary of sorts, a way to structure these immense concepts into the everyday language he would use with his friends.


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Sophia | 1288 comments Mod
Deborah wrote: "I don't remember which means they probably just read it."

They must have done. I read this book as an audio book and, like you, feel I've missed out.


John (JohnnyFartPants) I assumed that it was an impersonation of George Dubya Bush


Daniel | 724 comments Mod
@John: It's certainly written the way he would have said it. I'll be interested to hear your opinion on this "word cloud" device when the story elements begin pulling together later in the novel.


Casceil | 812 comments Mod
I like John's idea. Maybe it's the voices on TV, sort of playing in the background of Billy's mind. only sometimes the volume gets louder when real life gets too surreal.


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Books mentioned in this topic

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (other topics)
Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience (other topics)
The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

David Foster Wallace (other topics)