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

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
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's review
May 02, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction
Read on May 02, 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.
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04/06/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Sonya amazing review. got to the heart of why I love this book. thank you!

Michele Yes, great review. I totally agree.

Akiva Liberman Great review, captures my reactions perfectly

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