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Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2012)
Billy Lynn's Long Half-Time Walk is a razor-sharp satire set in Texas during America's war in Iraq. It explores the gaping national disconnect between the war at home and the war abroad.

Ben Fountain’s remarkable debut novel follows the surviving members of the heroic Bravo Squad through one exhausting stop in their media-intensive "Victory Tour" at Texas Stadium, football mecca of the Dallas Cowboys, their fans, promoters, and cheerleaders.

307 pages, Hardcover

First published May 1, 2012

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About the author

Ben Fountain

17 books307 followers
Ben Fountain's fiction has appeared in Harper's, The Paris Review, and Zoetrope: All Story, and he has been awarded an O. Henry Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, and the PEN/Hemingway Award. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dallas, Texas.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,596 reviews
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,296 reviews120k followers
November 19, 2020
It is early in the latest Iraq war. SPC Billy Lynn, a 19-year-old, silver-star-recipient and bona fide war hero, is about to be honored at the Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving home game, along with seven other members of Bravo company, for bravery in a battle that had the benefit of a Fox news crew with plenty of film. He is also the window through which we get a hard look at the reality of millennial America. That Ben Fountain succeeds so well in making Billy work both as a character in his own right and a literary mechanism speaks to the extraordinary talent on display.

Ben Fountain - image from Texas Monthly - Photograph by Randal Ford

Billy has killed enemy combatants and has lost close friends. He has endured a difficult family life in which his wheelchair-bound father sought refuge from his disappointments in alcohol and bitterness. His maturity emerges when he ponders larger philosophical questions or sees through some of the shallowness and hypocrisy around him. But he is also an innocent, a virgin in many ways. Billy’s innocence displays when he is smitten with one of the Cowboy cheerleaders. He is looking for people to believe in, to trust, to admire, to help him figure out how the world works. One of the men he most admired died in his arms. Another is with him on the tour, Sergeant Dime, 24, a smart, tough soldier equipped with a highly refined bullshit detector. At the stadium Billy, seriously wanting to find out how things work in the world, wanders from adult to adult like a lost chick asking “are you my mother?” This dichotomy makes sense in a young man who has seen so much. We expect him to be uneven.

Joe Alwyn as Billy - image from Collider

The story takes place in a single day, following Bravo from their arrival at Texas Stadium to their departure at day’s end. The half-time festivities, of which they are a part, include multiple marching bands, firefight-level pyrotechnics and a performance by Destiny’s Child. Bravo is accompanied by a military minder, a corporate escort and a Hollywood producer who is trying to put together a major film about their exploits.

There are violent roadies, Cowboy cheerleaders, football players of questionable moral makeup, obnoxious fans, corporate lizards and lots and lots of people who thank Bravo for their service. Alcohol will be consumed. Weed will be smoked. Sex will be had. You will, on occasion, laugh out loud.

From the film - image from Flix66

Siting the story in Texas is no accident. America’s team hosts America’s heroes. Dubyah has sent these boys around the country to boost morale, and more importantly, political and popular support. Theirs is a PR-for-the-war tour.
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.
But the soldiers know that they are mere pawns:
“Everybody supports the troops,” [Sergeant] Dime woofs, “Support the troops, support the troops, hell yeah we’re so fucking PROUD of our troops, but when it comes to actual money? Like somebody might have to come out of pocket for the troops? Then all the sudden we’re on everybody’s tight-ass budget. Talk is cheap. I got that, but gimme a break. Talk is cheap but money screams.
This is not a cheery depiction of America. Warts are on display, maybe on the Jumbotron along with videos of Bravo in battle, and ads for everything. It is the nation in microcosm, with the soldiers just another prop pumping up the consumer to buy product, whether that be deodorant, sex or a nifty new war.

Garrett Hedlund as Sergeant Dime - image from CinemaBlend

By creating a relatable character in Billy Lynn, and casting a smart, analytical eye over the world he portrays, Ben Fountain has succeeded in producing a brilliant book. This is not only a sharp look at America and its values, considering, among other things, the origins of the Bible, how Hollywood is like the court of Louis the Sun King, sporting events as ads for ads, elements of spectacle as catalysts for tribal violence, fear as the mother of all emotion, and profiteering in war. It offers as well recognition of innocence and optimism in this everyman, a character who, despite having stared into the abyss, still nurtures very American dreams of a rosy future, if only he can survive long enough to pursue it.


5/7/12 - Janet Maslin's great review in the NY Times

10/10/12 - Billy is nominated for a National Book Award - Hooah!

1/16/13 - Billy is named a finalist for the New York Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.

2/4/13 - This is more of a PS than an actual update:
Billy Lynn popped into my mind, on a very big screen, during the Superbowl last night. It was not a stretch to see in the NFL's use of Sandy Hook survivors a cynical attempt to associate themselves with warm and fuzzy, America and apple pie, just as was done with Bravo Company in the novel--that Beyonce, and even Destiny's Child performed added resonance to the association with Ben Fountain's magnificent book--all the while promoting a sport that celebrates violence. The irony, or is it rank hypocrisy, was gag-worthy.

3/1/13 - Billy wins the National Book Critics Circle 2012 award
for fiction
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,825 followers
August 13, 2014
It’s probably a bad idea for the US military to allow the troops overseas to get the news from back home. I have this fear that someday the service men and women in places like Iraq and Afghanistan will finally snap after seeing the people they’ve pledged to defend are less interested in what they’re doing than TV reality shows and celebrity gossip. If the military ever decides that the pack of assholes back in America isn’t worth fighting and dying for, we could find all that hardware aiming back at us someday. I really wouldn’t blame them.

Billy Lynn is a young soldier who was serving in Iraq with Bravo squad. After Bravo got into a hellacious firefight with a band of insurgents that was captured on camera by an embedded Fox News crew, the members of Bravo become national heroes. To capitalize on their popularity, the Bush administration has Bravo brought back to the US and sent them on a ‘Victory Tour’ (Which just so happens to run through critical electoral states for the next election.) to drum up support for the war.

The Victory Tour culminates at a Thanksgiving Day pro football game at Texas Stadium in which Bravo is supposed to play a part in the half-time show. While Billy and the other Bravo members have been enjoying some of the perks of being heroes on tour, it also means putting up with the people who want to prove their support of the troops by fawning over them as well as being used as PR props by anyone with an agenda like the owner of the Cowboys.* Bravo would also like to sign a film deal before they have to deploy back to Iraq in a few days so they can at least get a nice payday for their efforts, but the producer they’re working with is having problems getting Hollywood interested in a war movie set in Iraq.

(*Ben Fountain avoids a lawsuit by creating a fictional asshole owner of the Cowboys instead of naming Jerry Jones, the actual asshole owner of the Cowboys.)

I started noting passages I wanted to quote in this review, but I hit a point where I was finding something on every page so I gave up on that plan. There was so much about this one that I loved, that I don’t really know where to start.

Young Billy Lynn is one of the best and most sympathetic characters I’ve read in a long while. He’s a 19-year-old virgin who can’t legally drink, but he’s gone to war and had more experience with death than most would have in a lifetime. Billy is nervous when dealing with the older, wealthier good old boys who want to glad-hand Bravo at the game, and he has a somewhat naive belief that there is someone wiser than him that can explain all the feelings that combat and the aftermath have stirred in him. However, he also has a grunt's hyper-awareness of hypocrisy and bullshit.

As Bravo endures a long day of being used as props for photo ops and a half-time show, Billy’s musings and observations about the people and events in the stadium showcase a society that will spend billions on sports but pays it’s soldiers a pittance while patting themselves on the back for the way they support the troops by offering them applause and trinkets before sending them back to war.

That’s a powerful point, but what makes this so great is that the message is delivered so deftly and without the heavy handed political left or right wing political manifesto that is part of almost any writing done about these kinds of subjects. It’s also funny and absolutely nails many things that are great and ridiculous about America.

It’s only March, but I think I may have an early winner for Best Book I Read This Year.
Profile Image for Fabian.
947 reviews1,563 followers
December 18, 2019
No. "American Sniper" it isn't. Even "The Hurt Locker" or "Zero Dark Thirty" or the forgotten "Stop-Loss" aren't IT, either.

BUT this IS IT. (you gotta GOTTA READ this!)

Of course, you would have to go to literature for the most captivating, most REALISTIC depictions of the new American Soldier's psyche. Juicy and spine-tinglingly relevant, this uber-irreverent novel soars high with a grounded and visceral pulse, in an almost minute-by-minute account of society's push on the soldier (Billy Lynn), on his fish-out-of-water-ness. His condition is complex AND clichéd in equal measure, but that it is important or worthwhile of this awesome & o-so-cool portrait there is NO DOUBT.

"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" is a gratifying read that's not only today's "Catch-22", but also Ulysses and Mrs. Dalloway put together, swirled in with the priceless and undeniable wit of THE Modern American Author.

PS: film looks exquisite, no?
PPS: but it's a dud. Alas. And had I seen it on IMAX? I'd be soo fucking mad.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,828 followers
October 14, 2018
I enjoyed this book more than I expected. And, I wasn't really sure for the first half or so if I was enjoying it or not. But, as it built up to the end I was enthralled - definitely the sign of a good book.

The delivery of the story was very unique. The entire story (except for a few flashbacks) takes place over the course of a Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboy's game during the Gulf Conflict post 9/11. It concerns American heroes being honored and the reality of life in America vs military life in the Middle East being the catalyst for several interesting and intertwined storylines. I don't know the background of the author and how much he knows about military life (in person or researched), but he does a really great job providing some raw reality.

What is the most amazing to me is how many storylines he fits into one football game. Sure, as a story you can bend time how you want, but he does a pretty good job of making it seem reasonable that everything could have happened.

A great tear jerker that will make you think! I am hoping that it is an on point depiction of how military personnel view life coming out of combat because it is very eye opening and, in my opinion, worth everyone reading to see that it isn't all just,"Yay! 'Murica!"
913 reviews401 followers
December 27, 2012
Well, that didn't take very long. Mounting frustration, a couple of critical (if unusual) goodreads reviews, and that's it -- I feel validated now, I'm quitting.

I wanted to blame the audio format, but that doesn't usually get in the way when I'm truly enjoying a book. I could say it's because it's a guy book, but I've liked some guy books in my day -- admittedly they were a harder sell, but not impossible for me to enjoy.

I guess the book just felt repetitive to me. Not much of a plot; rather a string of linked events. Every incident was crafted to bring home one or more of the following points:

1. Soldiers in Iraq, and our hero in particular, are really just ordinary 19-year-old boys. But now there's this huge divide between them and the rest of American society.

2. Americans spend a lot of money on stupid things.

3. Americans are naive about the war, about the soldiers' experiences, and about things in general.

4. War is bad.

5. War is really bad.

6. You stupid American civilians just don't get it, do you?

I just got tired of it after a while, along with being hit over the head with the fact that Billy likes masturbating in his room now that he's home. Geez. I got it after one time, do I have to hear about it every time? What artistic purpose is this serving, exactly, what new theme is this highlighting when all of the author's few points are being hammered in repeatedly as it is?

I felt that Billy, rather than being a character I could relate to, conveniently alternated between being a cliche of a teenage guy and an introspective font of private wisdom. And it wasn't as if any of the other characters particularly grabbed me either.

Yes, there were a few well-written sentences. Yes, I guess the topic is arguably a profound one even if I didn't feel the book did it justice. At all. And so many discerning goodreaders whose opinions I truly respect loved this. Raved about it. So don't let my review put you off, because I seem to be very much in the minority. But I felt validated by the few negative reviews out there, so if you're having the same experience as you read my review, then I've done mine.
36 reviews48 followers
July 30, 2012
A brilliant exploration of the dissonance and disconnect between military life and civilian life in a time of war. I can't recall the last time I've read a novel that skewers the American public so effectively and relentlessly.

This is the right novel for the last ten years of American wars, perhaps THE novel for the War on Terror/GWOT/Long War/whatever the Pentagon is calling it these days. There are several excellent memoirs and non-fictional accounts of life on the modern battlefield ("The Forever War," "One Bullet Away," "Joker One," "Generation Kill"), but this novel heads straight for unexplored waters - the patronizing, superficial support of American citizens for their servicemen and the uniformly absurd way they react to a mention of the war or the presence of a soldier. It is a story that could never be fully presented as a work of non-fiction or journalism; every two-bit patriot with a yellow ribbon on a minivan or an American flag in the front yard would be up in arms if they saw this account in a newspaper. No, this is the kind of story that can only be told (at least in these contemporary times) in a work of fiction, and that's what Ben Fountain has done - filled a gaping hole in our understanding of our recent foreign adventures. But at its core, the enemy of the good in this book is not patriotism but the self-serving desire of the public to reduce the war down to something that is simple and easy:

"...and 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, otherwise just shut, shut your yap and sit on it, silence being truer to the experience than the star-spangled spasm, the bittersweet sob, the redeeming hug, or whatever this fucking closure is that everybody's talking about. They want it to be easy and it's just not going to be."

With evocative descriptions and intervals of absurdist humor, this book careens from the most profound questions of life and death to the most base human desires. At the end of the day, it's not entirely clear whether the protagonists are Billy Lynn and "Bravo" or the American public, and perhaps that's the point - at some point the declaration of patriotism, sympathy, and support becomes less about the troops dying overseas than about the person making the declaration. Negotiating that line is not an easy task, but Ben Fountain has both identified the line and made a compelling case that many of us have crossed it, which gives this novel a relevance that is at once very contemporary but also timeless. There will always be something of a disconnect between those who have seen war and those who have not, but the values of civilian society will determine whether that disconnect becomes a yawning chasm.

Funny, absurd, heartfelt, and provocative.
Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews874 followers
March 1, 2013
It’s an old observation, but true nonetheless: Nineteen is a difficult age – old enough to get shot for your country, but not to drink beer. In Billy Lynn’s case, it’s an age where there’s more than that to sort out, but with little training to draw on to get it all figured. We’re pulling for you, though, Billy.

What SPC William Lynn was trained for was life in Bravo Company, ground troops in Iraq who showed exceptional bravery under fire. Footage of their valor found its way into American living rooms, and for PR reasons these new heroes were given a tour of appreciation back in the States. It culminated at Texas Stadium Thanksgiving Day where the Cowboys were playing the Bears. (Go Bears!) Bravo was invited to participate in the halftime show. Of course, with Destiny’s Child as the musical act, they all wanted to know if they’d get to meet Beyoncé.

The live action takes place the day of the game, starting with the limo ride there (with Billy downing five Jack and Cokes) and ending with the limo picking them up afterwards – next stop: Iraq – again. Flashbacks tell us about their war experiences. We learn more about their victory lap, too, as they were trotted out to various media events including one at the White House. The most significant stop for Billy, though, was to an empty part of Texas. There at home he saw his doting sisters, long-suffering mom, and now disabled, still ornery father. He discovered the medical bills had outpaced his heroism. At surface level, though, the whole tour was a chorus of “We Support Our Troops” and “Thank you for your service.” It was nice to feel appreciated, but it may have rung hollow after awhile. And none of it paid the bills. Nor did it offer reprieves – they all had more war to go. To a man, though, they knew what they’d signed up to do.

At the game, plot lines were shooting in all directions all at once. A movie dealmaker was constantly on his cell trying to get the Bravo story on the silver screen, and money in their pockets. Then there were the texts from one of Billy’s sisters trying to arrange for him to skip out of his return. And let’s not forget Billy’s newfound love, a Cowboys cheerleader with a connection to his hometown. The Cowboys organization was a story in itself from owner Norm (who was as thinly disguised a version of Jerry Jones as Frankenstein would be in a Frankenstein mask) to the players (a subset of whom offered gangsta-style assistance in Iraq for a few days).

Most of the book worked well for me. On the minus side, though, I found writing at times to be a tad overdone. It can be a fine line. Exuberance is tricky. For me, an author with a good ear can even border on purple and still be OK, but other times it’s simply distracting. Here’s an example; judge for yourselves. “It’s just too much for his hangover, all the mounds, slabs, sheets, hummocks, and hillocks of edible matter resembling a complex system of defensive earthworks, and it’s that thing-ness, the sheer molecular density on display, that gives him the lurch.”

Then a few pages later, I think Fountain gets it just about right. Describing the luxury box crowd: “The men have the hale good looks and silver hair of successful bank presidents or midsized-city mayors, tanned, fit sixty-year-olds who can still bring the heat on their tennis serves. Their wives are substantially but not offensively younger, all blondes, all displaying the taut architectonics of surgical self-improvement.”

Other passages show Fountain’s powers of observation. To wit: “Norm is confident, absolutely, he is the king of self-esteem, but this is the confidence of self-help tapes and motivational mantras, confidence learned as one learns a foreign language, and so the accent lingers in his body language, a faint arthritic creak in every smile and gesture.”

Back on the minus side were instances of implausibility. I’ll skip past examples from the plot since I’ve said too much about that already, but will ask if we should believe that a young man can drink beers and highballs (more than a dozen), split a big joint, and still answer interview questions as lucidly as you please? While I’m at it, do moms in Bugtussle, TX really talk like the coolest urbanites in the ice tray? To pile on with one more, there were cases where I felt his stereotypes were a bit too convenient (a notable exception being the born-again Christian with an impetuous moment of passion).

Ah, but I’m being too picky. The bottom line is Billy is great. In a way, he’s an every-grunt, but one that grows very aware. He may not have been a scholar, but he’s smart, and seeking. We can empathize completely as he searches for role models who can give him some wisdom and truth. Shroom had been one, but as Army buddies often do, he met a bad end. I mentioned before that not everything in the story seemed realistic, but it was all very real to Billy. This more than compensates. His feelings in the face of his conflicts seemed genuine and the book succeeds on those grounds; at its best, spectacularly.
Profile Image for Hilary.
133 reviews34 followers
October 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.
Profile Image for Blaine.
749 reviews609 followers
June 13, 2022
Billy tries to imagine the vast systems that support these athletes. They are among the best-cared for creatures in the history of the planet, beneficiaries of the best nutrition, the latest technologies, the finest medical care, they live at the very pinnacle of American innovation and abundance, which inspires an extraordinary thought - send them to fight the war! Send them just as they are this moment, well rested, suited up, psyched for brutal combat, send the entire NFL! Attack with all our bears and raiders, our ferocious redskins, our jets, eagles, falcons, chiefs, patriots, cowboys - how could a bunch of skinny hajjis in man-skirts and sandals stand a chance against these all-Americans? Resistance is futile, oh Arab foes. Surrender now and save yourself a world of hurt, for our mighty football players cannot be stopped, they are so huge, so strong, so fearsomely ripped that mere bombs and bullets bounce off their bones of steel. Submit, lest our awesome NFL show you straight to the flaming gates of hell!
I really liked Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. It packs a great deal of thought into a rather surreal story: the visit of a heroic army unit to Dallas Cowboys football game on Thanksgiving. There is an engaging set of characters, most of all 19-year-old Billy Lynn, who not only ring true but provoke genuine interest and sympathy. Without feeling forced, this book raises so many questions about what makes a hero in war, the way America 'loves' its soldiers while sending them into combat, the hypocrisy and violence in our culture, and the bond between solidiers. Somewhere, I hope Billy and Faison are together. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Sam.
142 reviews321 followers
February 9, 2017
" 'If it's supposed to be this great Victory Tour then why can't he just stay home?
Mr. Whaley's voice was gentle. 'It's fine young men like your brother who are going to lead us to victory.'
'Not if they're dead.'

It took me much longer than I expected to finish Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk I couldn't put my finger on it at first, until I realized I bookmarked nearly every other page for the first 100 or so pages. This isn't a quiet book on balance: it crackles and pops and is aggressive and muscular in its prose and in its smarts. I'd read lines I like, and go back and read them again, and look for more ideas, and look for links, and... well, I guess I got lost reading it in the best way possible, which is pretty high praise for a novel.

At staged rallies, for instance, or appearances at malls, or whenever TV or radio is present you are apt at some point to be lovingly mobbed by everyday Americans eager to show their gratitude, then other times it's like you're invisible, people just see right through you, nothing registers. Billy and Mango stand there eating scalding hot pizza and know that their fame is not their own. Mainly it's another thing to laugh about, this huge floating hologram of context and cut that leads everyone around by the nose, Bravo included, but Bravo can laugh and feel somewhat superior because they know they're being used. Of course they do, manipulation is their air and element, for what is a soldier's job but to be the pawn of higher?

Wear this, say that, go there, shoot them, then of course there's the final and ultimate be killed. Every Bravo is a PhD in the art and science of duress.

The plot itself doesn't elapse over too much time: it's the end of the Victory Tour for the Bravos, instant stars in a 24 hour news cycle for defending a fallen comrade and holding off and killing insurgents in an outnumbered situation. They return home heroes, paraded around the country for media interviews and morale boosting. In the events of the novel, the Bravos are at a Cowboys-Bears game on Thanksgiving Day, and our protagonist, Billy, is bombarded with ideas and emotion as he navigates the day ahead of another deployment back to Iraq. Billy and his company, especially Dime and the deceased Shroom, are a wide ranging group of men with true brotherhood and camaraderie but also all with their own insecurities and demons from their war experiences or just from their real lives. Billy wonders which is his true existence on a number of occasions, and has to make a distinct choice by the end that tips his reality firmly into one camp or another.

One can definitely get war book fatigue in the modern era, but all are not the same, nor are all created equally. Ben Fountain's setting on the home front in between deployments is unique, as is putting the Bravos in a position to confront head on the commercialization of war. My emotion and heart were completely invested in Billy's thoughts and choices. This 19 year old boy/man, virginal and lusting, smart but not fully educated, a war hero and in search of leadership or inspiration, we see the whole spectacle watching over Billy's shoulder. We're as proud of him as the adoring fans who come up to him and ask the same questions, but through Billy's thoughts we also ask ourselves, the readers of the home front, if its fair for us to have put Billy in the position we have, to send him multiple times to fight wars against unknown enemies for increasingly tenuous reasons, to make a not fully grown kid become comfortable with killing and constantly putting his own, too short life in the balance. The thoughts Billy has, the things Bravo says, the way civilians interact with these briefly home heroes, there's reflection and criticism and examination for the reader there too.

..and thinking about it makes Billy somewhat bitter. It's not that he's jealous so much as profoundly terrified. Dread of returning to Iraq equals the direst poverty, and that's how he feels right now, poor, like a shabby homeless kid suddenly thrust in the company of millionaires. Mortal fear is the ghetto of the human soul, to be free of it something like the psychic equivalent of inheriting a hundred million dollars. This is what he truly 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."

So the subject is heavy, but man is the writing fun! It ranges from really smart, clever quotes and artfully arranged sentences, to just snappy dialogue that is incredibly revealing about the characters who utter the words. The Bravos are funny despite/because of their surreal situation: at a Cowboys game rubbing shoulders with Hollywood producers and rich power brokers and gorgeous cheerleaders for their last "free" day before shipping out back to Iraq. It can be a macabre sense of humor, but it's also silly, crude, smart. I chuckled, grinned, and in some parts I laughed out loud. This is a book with so much feeling, so much verve, I haven't been this entertained and informed since The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Fountain's prose keeps you off balance and on your toes, but also pushes you into humor just when you think things are getting serious.

"Mango grins, cuts Billy a look. 'Dude,' he tells Hector, 'we already going back.'
Hector squints. 'Shittin' me.'
'Shit you not. Leaving Saturday.'
'The fuck you gotta go back.'
'Gotta finish our tour.'
'The fuck! The fuck you gotta go back, after all you fuckin' done, fuckin' heroes? Where's the fuckin' right in that? You guys done kicked your share a ass, like when's they let you just coast on out?'
Mango laughs. 'The Army don't work that way. They need bodies.'
'Shit.' Hector is scandalized. 'For how long you gotta go?'
'Eleven months.'
'Fuck!' Sheer outrage. 'You wanna go back?'
The Bravos snort.
'Man. Fuckin' harsh. That just ain't right.' Hector casts about. 'Ain't they supposed to be making a movie about you?'
Uh huh.
'And you still gotta go back? Fuck, so what happens if you, uh, you, uh-'
'Get smoked?' Billy offers.
Hector turns away, stricken.
'No worries, homes,' Mango says, 'that's a totally different movie.' "

Overall, I found this a great read, with really dynamic, interesting characters set more or less around a day in the life of Billy and the Bravos, one pivotal, surreal day of "home" life in between being at war. And in addition to being highly entertaining and fun, Fountain also manages to inform and provoke and get you as the reader to ask some occasionally uncomfortable questions of yourself. There were parts that I found slightly heavy handed or didn't work quite as well as others (Billy falling in love with the Cowboys cheerleader and their encounter, the meeting with the Jerry Jones stand in), but overall I liked it a lot, would enthusiastically recommend it, and would probably re-read it in the future.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,168 reviews1,642 followers
May 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?

Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,509 followers
March 5, 2017
This is a moving satirical take on the disconnect between the soldiers who fought in Iraq and the limited understanding of their reality by the American public. The Bravo squad of soldiers which achieved special bravery in their accomplishments in a meaningless sortie gets its five minutes of fame through some footage on the evening news, and the brass and politicians seize on its propaganda opportunities. The soldiers are tapped to take a publicity tour culminating in a half-time extravaganza at a Thanksgiving game of the Dallas Cowboys. Cheney needs this PR to help persuade the country that “the insurgency is on its last legs”, and Bush can use some help for the next election to prove that he is effectively kicking ass in response to the affront of 9/11. The narrative alternates brilliantly between the absurdities in the promotion tour and attempts of the soldiers to take advantage of the perks of booze, food, and prospects of sex to help relieve their flashbacks of the horrors of combat and recent deaths of two of their squad.

Billy is a naive 19-year old who was forced to join the Army as a substitute for prison after destroying the car of his sister’s fiancé who had dumped after she got debilitating injuries in a car crash. He is still a virgin and looking for a father figure to help him make sense of his purpose in the big picture. But he is growing up fast and begins to see through the veil by himself:

Without ever exactly putting his mind to it, he’s come to believe that loss is the standard trajectory. …The war is fucked? Well, duh. Nine-eleven? Slow train coming. 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 hollow patriotism inspired in average Americans by their tour leads Billy to some dark conclusions:
So either America’s fucked up, or he is. …People gather. The air turns moist with desire. They want words. They want contact. They want pictures and autographs.
“…when Fox News started showing that video I just sat right down and didn’t move for hours. …Oh God I was just so happy that day, I was relieved more than anything, like we were finally paying them back for nina leven …”
…No matter their age or station in life, Billy can’t help but regard his fellow Americans as children. They are bold and proud and certain in the way of clever children blessed with too much self-esteem, and no amount of lecturing will enlighten them as to the state of pure sin toward which war inclines. …Americans are children who must go somewhere else to grow up, and sometimes die.

By the time the squad gets to the reception among the wealthy at Texas Stadium, he begins to be mystified by the uses of the war by the moneyed power brokers who apparently run the world. An agent from Hollywood is working hard to negotiate a movie deal for the squad with some of the Dallas Cowboys’ business backers as investors. Billy can’t quite digest that Hilary Swank wants to play him in the movie. In one encounter at the reception, an oil company executive makes a claim that by adopting fracking he is doing his part for the war effort, reducing dependence on foreign oil. In Billy’s mind his sergeant’s response proves that “here in the chicken-hawk nation of blowhards and bluffers, Bravo always has the ace of bloods up their sleeve”:

“…just for the record, this is the most murdering bunch of psychopaths you’ll ever see. …They’re killers, they’re having the time of their lives. So if your family’s oil company wants to frack the living shit out of the Barnett Shale, that’s fine, sir, that’s absolutely your prerogative, but don’t be doing it on our account. You’ve got your business and we’ve got ours, so you just keep drilling, sir, and we’’ll keep on killing.”

I refrain from spoiling any plot elements to this incisive morality tale. Needless to say the climax of action at the stadium is over the top and provides suitable comic relief. Enquiring minds will want to know if Billy’s crush on a dewy and spiritual Cowboy’s cheerleader will be requited. Also to be resolved is whether Billy’s sister can persuade him not to sign up for another tour of duty or whether Billy’s disgust with the crass commercialism of America will drive him back to war for its medicine in primal reality.
Profile Image for Darlene.
370 reviews132 followers
May 21, 2017
This novel, "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" , written by author Ben Fountain and narrated by Oliver Wyman, evoked a multitude of emotions in me. I have read many fictionalized accounts of war and I have to say that this was one I could really FEEL ... although the actual war account in the story lasts all of three minutes and forty-three seconds and is told through a flashback. This story is more about the members of Bravo Squad.... who after engaging in a fight with insurgents in Iraq and losing two members of their squad to an IED attack.. Shroom, who was killed and Lake, who was seriously injured.... is now back in the United States for what is being called their 'Victory Tour'.

The eight remaining members of Bravo Squad, along with their leader Sergeant Dime, have been on a whirlwind tour of the country which is ending on Thanksgiving Day at the Dallas Cowboys football game. The accounting of this victory tour is told mainly in the voice of Specialist William 'Billy' Lynn, who is just 19 years old and struggling to make sense of what occurred in Iraq and trying to put their hero's welcome into perspective.

Billy Lynn, although quite young, is thoughtful and introspective and throughout Thanksgiving Day, we see him struggling with some huge ideas and emotions. He struggles with the death of Shroom.... trying to find some way to make sense of the randomness of what happened to the man who had taken him under his wing. Shroom had given him advice.... he had told Billy "to place his feet one in front of the other instead of side by side; that way, if an IED blew low through the Humvee, Billy might lose only one foot instead of two." Billy is struck by the "total freaking randomness" of what occurred.... "the difference between life, death and horrible injury is sometimes as slight as stooping to tie your bootlaces on the way to chow"..... or "turning your head to the left instead of the right."

In contrast to Billy's thoughts that day is what is happening all around him and the other members of Bravo Squad. They are accompanied by movie producer Albert Ratner, who spends most of the day on his BlackBerry ... arguing with and cajoling all of his contacts with big bank accounts to get on board with his idea to make a film of Bravo Squad's experiences.. making promises to the Squad of big profits for their story.. all of which feel overblown and somehow suspect.

Bravo Squad is whisked away to meet the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Norman Oglesby and his 'friends' and associates, who are all sporting flag pins on their lapels and who gush emotionally about their patriotism and support of the troops. These meetings seem sincere and yet at the same time, there is a ring of insincerity as well.... but Billy.. well, he is accepting of these people, if not somewhat baffled and overwhelmed by all of the attention. Throughout that Thanksgiving Day, the Bravo Squad would go on to meet the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and Billy would catch the eye of one in particular.... a born-again Christian named Faison, who promised to pray for him and yet stole away with him for a private moment which seemed decidedly a bit UN-Christianlike! The Bravos would also meet the football team, who seemed only to want to know what it feels like to kill someone. They would be paraded onto the field at halftime as part of the show featuring Beyonce and Destiny's Child. Although the entire Bravo Squad seemed to enjoy the attention, there was also an air of bewilderment and even cynicism as to what this 'star treatment' was all about.

By the end of that Thanksgiving Day, the Bravo Squad was actually more than ready to head back to base, get their gear together and head back to Iraq to complete their tour of duty. Billy Lynn, sitting in is limousine on his way back to base and feeling exhausted and baffled, could not help but think about the people he had met that day... they were well-intentioned.. he knew that... but he couldn't help but think about the huge difference between the people's war 'experience' and his own. He thought... "Their reality dominates, except for this: It can't save you. It wont stop any bombs or bullets. " He wonders if "there's a saturation point, a body count that will finally blow the homeland dream to smithereens. How much reality can unreality take?"

Mr, Fountain has written a thought provoking, satirical and yes, even a bit cynical look at the Iraq War and I couldn't stop listening to the story until I reached the end. Although a fictional account, I will carry Billy Lynn and the members of Bravo Squad with me for a long time.
Profile Image for Melki.
5,795 reviews2,340 followers
February 1, 2013
"It is sort of weird being honored for the worst day of your life."
Billy Lynn

Bravo Squad, a group of young Iraq war heroes, is traveling the country on a publicity tour for the Army. They're to be put on display during the halftime show at a Dallas Cowboy's game on Thanksgiving Day. Wherever they go, they are greeted with patriotic platitudes, clapped on the back and wished well by a fawning public made up of Fox News viewers who want to thank them for defending faith, flag, and America's heartland.

I liked the relationships between Billy and his pals. Their constant roughhousing, and teasing of one another serves as a reminder of just how young they are...they are boys, really, but boys forced to do a man's job, and you know they can depend on each other in a crisis. I also liked Billy's brief visit home, seeing his relationship with his sister and his lack of interaction with his father.


much of this book didn't work for me. I was regularly tuning out during the football game and the halftime show with Destiny's Child. Probably the thing that annoyed me most was the wildly implausible, "love-at-first-sight" romance with a cheerleader, who despite being a rabid Christian is willing to energetically dry-hump a guy she's known for only a few minutes.

There was, however, a highly insightful visit to the Cowboy's storage room, where the soldiers got to view the amazing array of shoes and protective gear that is just given to the millionaire players, while poorly paid grunts are forced to buy so much of their own equipment, including adequate safety gear.

The book is laced with humorous moments, but an overall tone of sadness and desperation lingers because the boys are on their way back to Iraq for another year.

Back to that madness-inducing mix of boredom and sheer terror.

Back to the insanity of planting your feet one in front of the other instead of side by side when riding in a Humvee. That way if you hit an IED, you only lose one foot instead of two.

Back to fighting the good fight, so that wealthy Americans will continue to enjoy the freedom to buy $695.00 leather Cowboy's jackets.
Profile Image for Peter Boyle.
489 reviews596 followers
May 2, 2016
After surviving a bloody skirmish in Iraq, nineteen-year-old Billy Lynn returns to Texas a national hero. Footage of the firefight was uploaded by a US journalist and the ensuing viral sensation quickly made celebrities out of Billy and his fellow soldiers. Along with his comrades in Bravo Company, he is paraded around the country and hailed as a symbol of American hope and valour. The story focuses on one of the final days of the victory tour - Bravo are welcomed as guests of honour at a Dallas Cowboys football game and a Hollywood producer attempts to broker a movie deal to bring their act of bravery to the big screen.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is already being described as one of the great Iraq War novels but that's not really what it's about. It's more concerned with the state of the US at the time of the conflict. Billy comes home from the war with a new outlook and starts to see things more objectively. With fresh eyes he begins to realise the culture of excess and materialism which dominates everyday American life - this is never more apparent than during the ridiculously over-the-top half-time show. He is also amazed by how enthusiastic and clueless his fellow citizens are in relation to Iraq. It seems like everyone wants to shake his hand and encourage him to carry on fighting so long as they can watch it all on jumbo TV screens from the comfort of their own couches:

“No matter their age or station in life, Billy can't help but regard his fellow Americans as children. They are bold and proud and certain in the way of clever children blessed with too much self-esteem, and no amount of lecturing will enlighten them as to the state of pure sin toward which war inclines. He pities them, scorns them, loves them, hates them, these children. These boys and girls. These toddlers, these infants. Americans are children who must go somewhere else to grow up, and sometimes die.”

It's hard to believe this is a debut novel - Ben Fountain writes with the skill and level of insight befitting an accomplished author. He portrays an acute understanding of the disquiet and frustration felt by the troops and skilfully points out the contradictory attitude to war among American society. He also deftly depicts the emotional impact of the conflict on the soldiers and the devastating burden it places on their families. This a brave and blistering anti-war novel with an important message at its core.
Profile Image for Sam.
325 reviews8 followers
August 24, 2012
I’d happily fall in love with a book that was trying to capture and examine our contemporary reality. Politically, I absolutely agree with the themes highlighted (to death) in this book about the calculations behind going to war, about our society’s inane ‘priorities,’—everything. But Ben Fountain never lets me forget that he’s communicating his messages, that he’s making these oh-so-important statements. Instead of telling a good story or giving us a meaningful character study, all Mr. Fountain did was use his characters like they were action figure toys that he’d inject into *set pieces* as a way to introduce unsubtly yet another example of how hypocritical, ignorant, superficial, or greedy some people are. There is not one section in the book where I couldn’t see the author’s clumsy hands all over each page. There's nothing artful or literary about this at all. Instead of getting lost in the story, lost in Billy’s meditations, I just felt like the author was punching me in the face with messages that weren’t even very deep.

He wants to raise important questions, but how come his treatment of them is so trite? The same themes are repeated over and over and over and over again, in the EXACT same way each time. It is not as if, in revisiting the same themes again and again, we are peeling back different layers of meanings and perspectives. No, the author doesn’t open our eyes to any new dimensions. Seriously, after the first 100 pages (maybe even less), you don’t gain any new insight into Billy, into war, or our superficial culture that the author didn’t already make in the first few pages. Moreover, most of the characters are crude stereotypes, except for Billy (kind of)—and maybe Dime.

If a book doesn’t work for me, then it just doesn’t; there’s no need for extra, special outrage. Most of the time, I’m self-aware enough to chalk up it up to differences in opinions and tastes. Everything’s subjective anyway; yes, I understand. But allow me to be immature here, just this once. In this case, there is a need for extra, special outrage. HOW IS THIS BOOK CONSIDERED WELL-WRITTEN, ENGAGING FICTION???? Why so many people, whose opinions I trust, have trumpeted this as *the* book of the year baffles me to no end.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,412 followers
July 17, 2012
Billy Lynn is a hero…a gad-dam gen-u-wine hee-row…a nineteen-year-old Silver-Starred hero who watched his best friend die in his arms and got medalled for it. “Raped by angels” is how he and his fellow BRAVO team describe the firefights of their experience in “Eye-rack.” Now back stateside to a hero’s welcome…a two-week blitz through the swing states…culminating in talking a movie deal with a part-owner of the Dallas Cowboys. They are publicly lauded/humiliated during a sleet-filled losing game where the soldiers and Beyoncé are the halftime show. The fireworks come as a surprise and as BRAVO heart rates spike, and their eyes come loose in their sockets, they have a hard time holding their insides together and their hearts from jumping right through their mouths.

This is a brilliant mix of trash talk from the boys who keep us safe, and sober (well, somewhat sober) reflections on the state of America, our way of life, what we have done with our great resources and how we have created and shared wealth. The boys are going back, and they go back with their eyes opened to what they are defending, and what they are fighting and dying for. It should come as no surprise that they fight for one another, more than any ideals. America has shown herself to be less than ideal.

Ben Fountain has a real classic here. He has written a Catch-22 for today, and this should be widely read, shared, talked about.

Harper Collins has had a number of fantastic successes recently (see Beautiful Ruins, Restoration, and Waiting for Sunrise) and is quickly becoming the press to beat. Kudos, HC!
Profile Image for Ilenia Zodiaco.
260 reviews13.3k followers
February 7, 2017
"La società può anche non avere bisogno di te, in senso stretto, ma di solito un modo di utilizzarti lo trova"
Profile Image for Matthew.
Author 20 books41 followers
June 4, 2012
Wow. Five stars? Really? For this? I'm not trying to be a dick. I'm not trying to patronize. I don't mean, even, to be overly critical. It's just that there is no way that this book is a five star book. Think about it, people who have read it. Do you really mean to say that this book deserves THE BEST SCORE POSSIBLE? Are you willing to say that yes, this book deserves to be placed among the top eschelons of eternity? I mean, I'm just asking. I'm not saying that it's not a five star idea or that there aren't five star sentences or five star phrases or descriptions or whatever inside. There probably are. But also? That's part of the problem. Bunch of soldier-heroes coming back from Iraq, gonna be showcased and VIP'd at the Thanksgiving Cowboys game, alongside Destiny's Child... it's a seductive idea. And granted, if I would've thought of it, I might've tried to make it work, might've let myself be seduced. But the truth is that, in the end, this book is at the mercy of its great idea. Or, maybe even more accurately, the ideas are so big here that no part of the book is ever able to transcend them. Dallas Cowboys. Heroes from Iraq. Thanksgiving. Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Texas Stadium. Texas. Dead fellow soldier. Owner based on Jerry Jones. It's like the author had a decent idea and wanted to say something about America and terrorism and the oughts and football and sexism, etc., but the fact is that anything you could say about any of that stuff is so obvious, so overdone, so already laden with over-the-top symbolism, that the only thing you can do while reading it--other than tip your hat to a good many propulsive and show-offy sentences--is nod your head and/or roll your eyes.

I wondered if I was being too harsh, if maybe I should've given this book more of a chance. Then I saw it at Kroger, my local grocery store, and I realized that yes, this was not a book for the ages, but a book for right now, and that it, like the store's produce, will wither and disappear. Maybe someone will be able to make a meal of it. As for me, it's already expired.
Profile Image for Adrian White.
Author 5 books125 followers
May 12, 2012
If you saw and enjoyed the compelling TV series Generation Kill, then I think you will love this book. There are many outrageous claims made for the book on the back of the proof copy I read and, I have to say, they all stand up. This is classic literature that will stand the test of time; classic in the sense that it joins a long list of stories about the damage done to young men by a foreign war and the difficulties they face in re-adapting to their homeland. It is also a damning, lacerating dissection of a certain facet of United States society - of those people who are well content to talk the talk of war but are happily oblivious of the cost. The story is also consistently funny - bitingly so - and all the more heartbreaking for that.
It bears comparison with Slaughterhouse 5, Catch 22, the movie Coming Home, All Quiet on the Western Front, the poems of Wilfred Owen, the Regeneration trilogy, A Farewell to Arms, Johnny Got His Gun - it really is as good as that.
Profile Image for robin friedman.
1,794 reviews220 followers
August 4, 2022
The United States Themselves Are Essentially The Greatest Poem

Ben Fountain's 2012 novel "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" was an outstanding choice to read over this Memorial Day weekend, with its parades and commemorations of our country's many brave soldiers who didn't return home. This weekend, sadly, also apparently marked the last appearance of Rolling Thunder in Washington, D.C., ending a long Memorial Day tradition.

This novel has the Iraq War as a backdrop and is set on Thanksgiving Day at Cowboy Stadium during a Dallas Cowboys football game. It is the story of Bravo Company which consists of ten young men who have performed heroically in the war and who have been brought back by the Bush Administration for a two-week tour culminating with the nationally televised Cowboys game. Bravo Company appears as a halftime participant. The primary character in the story is Billy Lynn, 19, who acted with particular heroism and courage during a sharp firefight which was caught on film. Billy is from a Texas small town and was a reluctant enlistee.

With the exception of a flashback involving Billy's visit to his home, the entire novel is set at the stadium beginning with Bravo's arrival two hours before kickoff and concluding with the soldiers being whisked away from the stadium in a limousine to be sent back for another year's service in Iraq.

There is a great deal in the novel about the undeniable heroism and fortitude of these young American soldiers under brutal almost unimaginably stressful conditions. Fountain's novel also describes the reception Billy and his comrades receive on their tour, particularly at the game. The book shows a great deal of backslapping, ignorant responses to the soldiers from many people who profess patriotism but show no understanding of the war. There are many portrayals in the book of wealth and greed and of attempts on the football field and off to exploit the young men especially in negotiations for a Hollywood movie based on Bravo's achievements. Football and cheerleader culture are satirized. Young Billy in the excitement of the moment becomes involved with a lovely cheerleader. As the story progresses, Billy becomes more reflective and understanding about his situation and about his own life. As do young men and women everywhere and as American culture has been doing, Billy and his comrades struggle with many aspects of sexuality.

The book aptly captures a money-making culture which works to use the soldiers rather than to understand them and to understand the war they have been sent off to fight.

But the heart of the book lies in the dialogue, particularly which the soldiers in Bravo speak. Fountain captures the colloquial, profane, expressive character of American speech and thought. The book's dialogue and portrayals of character reminded me of Walt Whitman, whose 200th anniversary, (May 31, 1819) also was celebrated as I was reading this book. In the Preface to "Leaves of Grass" Whitman observed that "the United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem". Something of the rambunctiousness, creativity, and optimism of America's secular democracy that Whitman so praised is captured in the spirit of this novel.

Many people read this novel as a sharp critique of American culture, including the Iraq War. With all the criticism especially of some wealthy Texans I found this book took a loving look at the United States and its people, especially the rural poor who make up a large portion of the fighting force and who are gallant, patriotic, and loyal. America owes a great deal to its warriors and properly and to its credit honors them on Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, and other occasions. I found "Billy Lynn's Halftime Walk" offers a moving view of our soldiers and of their service and sacrifice. The book shows how it is possible to criticize American culture on particular matters while also having a broader-based love. loyalty and patriotism towards the United States. With the satire and greed, the book also offers a positive portrayal of the United States and its promise and of American freedom.

Robin Friedman
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 2 books1,341 followers
May 17, 2017
Fantastic and incisive social commentary about war and those take advantage of it--about the vast gulf between what war really is and what it's made out to be. The writing is just brilliant.
Profile Image for Emily.
687 reviews623 followers
February 12, 2013
"THE DALLAS COWBOYS WELCOME HEROS OF AL-ANSAKAR CANAL!!!!!!!" is both a quote from, and a summary of, this literary novel that I loved and admired (keep this in mind the other 95% of the time, when I am petulantly disliking literary fiction).

The entire book, with the exception of one flashback, takes place during a single Super Bowl Sunday afternoon, when the Dallas Cowboys are playing host to eight Army grunts home on a cockeyed sort of "victory tour" after a fire-fight in which Billy's best friend dies in his arms. The "joke"'s on them, though, because this halftime isn't just in a football game; it's their halftime break between two tours in Iraq. None of the citizens lauding them (which turns into a word soup of "nina leven, terrRr, proud, so proud, nina leven, currj") seems to realize the heroes are being stop-lossed back in two days. In the meantime, Billy just wants to meet Beyoncé, and prevent his mother and sisters from freaking out too much about him going back.

The reason I usually don't like literary fiction is that it puts such a premium on style over plot, resulting in writing that's more awkward than revealing. Not so here--the writing sparkles with moments of sharp but simple observation. "Major McLaurin is seated on the rear banquette, watching Dime with all the emotion of a flounder on ice." Billy and his friends goof off a lot, but other scenes juxtapose the sad and the banal. When Billy's waiting for an Army car to pick him up at 7am, ending his visit home: "Denise poured more coffee for him. Kathryn cleared away his plate. The clock on the microwave was two minutes faster than the clock on the stove, which was in turn a minute faster than the wall clock, and every time you looked at one you had to look at the other in a never-ending quest for congruity. It was awful, watching those clocks." And while the book superficially appears to present a 3rd-person version of Billy's stream of consciousness, the football game provides a cunning structure for scenes of hope, fun, and disappointment.

At the center of this novel is a scathing critique of how we treat these supposed heroes compared to the attention and money lavished on other categories of heroes, like professional football players and Destiny's Child; and of how empty our patriotism is when matched against Billy's horrific battlefield experiences and his family's needs. Even if this theme is hidden under a good amount of black humor, a lot of readers find it lacking in subtlety. I would too, except that I think it's true.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,418 reviews4,382 followers
January 24, 2016
It feels weirdly unpatriotic to like the Iraq War book written by a non-vet better than the one written by a guy who was there, but there it is: I like this better than The Yellow Birds, not that that's a bad book, but it's a little bit written at times. This one is both less forced and more engrossing.

It takes place over the course of a single football game, as Billy Lynn and his squad of war heroes are paraded around like propaganda monkeys. Flashbacks give you the gist of the engagement that made them heroes, but they're hazy and indistinct; no one is exactly sure what happened there. It looked good on camera. Many of them didn't die, so that seems positive.

While the squad semi-covertly gets drunk and high and tries to screw cheerleaders, they also attempt to negotiate a movie deal for their story, and that's sortof what the book is about: who gets to tell the story. Over and over, they meet people who inform them what their story is. They are heroes; they are fighting bad guys and they are winning. That doesn't seem to be the story to them, or at least not the important part - the important part is that people keep trying to kill them and it's awful - but "forget it, they are the ones in charge, these saps, these innocents, their homeland dream is the dominant force. His reality is their reality's bitch."

It's an ingratiating book, no doubt. There's a sexy-cheerleader subplot that's only a little more interesting than the bare minimum, and there are at least two real rah-rah scenes where the little guy gets to have a little victory, and what the hell, let's have Beyonce show up too. But it has serious things to say, and I don't mind a little sugar to go with it. It's a win of a book.
Profile Image for Tony.
906 reviews1,514 followers
November 18, 2016
Bravo squad was in a firefight with Iraqi insurgents at a place called Al-Ansakar Canal. Billy Lynn was conspicuously courageous amongst them, with a philosopher-sergeant 'Shroom' dying in his arms. The three or four critical minutes were captured on film by an embedded Fox News crew and broadcast world-wide, making the Bravo Squad, and particularly Billy, heroes. They go on a whirlwind celebration tour, perhaps cynically staged by the Army, and culminating in being showcased at halftime at a Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving football game. I mean, how American can you get.

The language in the novel leans on pop culture (women saying 'mofos', eg.) which is usually lost on me, yet somehow Fountain was able to never lose the handle. Here's an example, a sentence describing Norm Oglesby, the fictitious owner of the Cowboys:

Norm is confident, absolutely, he is the king of self-esteem, but this is the confidence of self-help tapes and motivational mantras, confidence as one learns a foreign language, and so the accent lingers in his body language, a faint arthritic creak in every smile and gesture.

I rolled my eyes at "the king of self-esteem" but smiled and immediately re-read "the accent lingers in his body language."

The plot had a similar schizophrenia. Some plot details were implausible (). Yet, Billy's understanding of the war, the army, wealth, celebrity, family, and himself is very deftly revealed.

I enjoyed this.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews671 followers
February 25, 2014
Wickedly snappy satire that lays bare our notions of hero worship and all that it implies. Excellent.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
May 17, 2012
Wow. Sometimes a book just knocks you for a loop when you're not expecting it. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is one of those books. I almost didn't read it because the early reviews I had seen, while immensely superlative, made me believe this was a book about soldiers at war. And while soldiers, and their war, play a big part in the book, at its heart this is a story about a young soldier confronting the realities of the world, his family, brotherhood, and love, all for the first time.

During the war in Iraq, the men of Bravo Squad engage in a fierce firefight with insurgents at Al-Ansakar Canal, and two men lose their lives. A Fox News reporter embedded with the squad catches the entire nearly four-minute battle and broadcasts it to the world, and the Bravo Squad are hailed as American heroes. They are immediately flown back to America, where for two weeks they are sent on a victory tour around the nation, meeting President Bush and other political figures, as well as celebrities and average American citizens, most of whom express their gratitude for the sacrifice the soldiers are making. Nineteen-year-old Texas native Billy Lynn was recognized for his heroic efforts, and a Hollywood producer is pursuing the possibility of turning the Bravo Squad's heroism into a movie. A significant portion of the book takes place when the soldiers will participate in the halftime show during the Thanksgiving NFL game at Texas Stadium. In just a few hours, Billy will struggle with what their actions during wartime really meant to the world, whether he wants to go back to Iraq (the squad is scheduled to return to serve out the remainder of their deployment), and how love and family motivate him. He'll also come face to face for the first time with the glibness of Hollywood people.

I felt that so much of this book was brilliantly told and utterly captivating. Billy is a fascinating character, as are some of his fellow soldiers, and the way Ben Fountain lets their story unfold is fantastic. This book emphasizes the realities of war and how it affects those involved, as well as those who watch from the sidelines, but it never proselytizes. When the book ended, I was surprised at how disappointed I was, because I wanted more of their story. I want to know what happens once the soldiers return to Iraq. But perhaps it's better to make up my own ending than be disappointed. All in all, I thought this was an outstanding and truly affecting book.
Profile Image for Danielle McClellan.
569 reviews51 followers
July 19, 2016
My absolutely favorite book of the year. I am disappointed that it did not receive the National Book Award, for which it was a finalist. Paul Fussell once said (and this is a fairly loose paraphrase from memory) that it was impossible to speak clearly about war because the true facts of war are so gruesome and ghastly that people will turn from the page in horror unless you use a variety of literary devices to soften the blow.

Ben Fountain has found a dark, funny route into the big conversation and his gorgeously written novel observes the complex desires of Americans when it comes to making sense of war. Billy Lynn and the rest of the Bravo company are American heroes on their bizarre American Victory Tour. Where else should they find themselves on Thanksgiving, the night before they are shipped back to Iraq, than as half-time entertainment at a Dallas Cowboys Football Game. With sharp, clear characters, this novel both entertains and skewers the cultural ideals that got us to Iraq in the first place.
Profile Image for Robert.
Author 10 books420 followers
December 11, 2012
Having a somewhat loose connection to the military lifestyle, I felt an instant connection to this book that goes deeper than a cursory glance just across the surface. It made BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK real to me, yet I did have trouble initially getting into the story, because it’s told as much through flashbacks, bouncing in time from the present to the past, that I struggled initially with the author’s choice of storytelling. But once I caught on, I dove into the water headfirst, and I didn’t bother coming up for air.

Sure, there are satirical elements to the story, and it presents a world that’s not all sugarplums and candy canes and apple pies, but it’s the world we currently live in, if not slightly exaggerated. And for me, that was most of the appeal of the novel.

I loved the direct line of sight into the eyes of a soldier, a grunt and a squad that was suddenly blown up bigger than an atomic bomb because of the media attention, the Jumbotron, the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, and the Victory Tour. It’s a study in American excess, and it further cements the great American divide between the haves and the have nots.

This novel is at times powerful, heartbreaking, funny, sad, but overall it’s a richly written piece of fiction that made me pause and reflect, if even just for a minute, at the direction our country has taken.
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