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

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
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's review
May 15, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction

It’s Thanksgiving Day and halftime for nineteen-year-old Billy Lynn’s tour of duty in Iraq. Billy and his fellow Bravos are on a two week “Victory Tour” stateside due to acts of valor in Iraq that were filmed and widely viewed on TV and online. The Bravos are heroes and everyone wants to bask in their glory. Hillary Swank is interested in portraying either Billy or his sergeant in a Hollywood film version. Dubya greets them in the White House before their other scheduled stops in swing states. Two days before the Bravos are due to return to Iraq to finish their tour of duty, they are feted by America’s team in Dallas, home to the Cowboys football franchise, and are expected to share star billing during the halftime show with Destiny’s Child.

That’s the setup. The payoff is Fountain’s exquisite sense of irony. We see Billy and his fellow soldiers, grunts paid about $15,000 a year for their part in the War Against Terror juxtaposed against professional football players who make millions for entertainment purposes. The NFLers want to know what it’s like to cap someone and volunteer to help out for a while but recoil from the idea of enlisting because “this here our job, how you think we gonna quit our job go join some nigga’s army? Fah like, wha, three years? Break our contract and all?” The Cowboys owner is a mixture of righteousness and ruthlessness. His speech on the perils of Saddam Hussein sounds suspiciously like more domestic villains: “A man . . . who built palaces for his personal pleasure while schools decayed and his country’s health care system collapsed. Who maintained one of the world’s most expensive armies while he allowed his nation’s infrastructure to crumble. Who channeled resources to his cronies and political allies allowing them to siphon off much of the country’s wealth for their own personal gain.” And, oh! The cheerleaders! Billy falls hard for Faison, beautiful (even in pancake makeup), soft, and sweet smelling. With her amber colored hair, she reminded me of the woman in John Prine’s Great Compromise :

I knew a girl who was almost a lady
She had a way with all the men in her life
Every inch of her blossomed in beauty
And she was born on the fourth of July

Billy comes to see that the homeland dream is what matters most to Americans, even as it overwhelms his personal reality of war. The homeland dream is the dominant reality. Billy loves, hopes, yearns, and finally accepts. America needs heroes and ideals of heroism, just at a safe distance.

This is a brilliant book.

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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Pat (last edited Feb 01, 2013 07:45AM) (new)

Pat I saw the William Morris pattern, one of my favorites, and I knew that I would have to read this book on your use of that pattern! Of course, your review is very good too. Would it be good for a Book Group selection?

Barbara Well, it probably depends on the makeup of your book club. Most of the members of my book club are staunchly conservative and would be offended by the subject matter. You don’t criticize sitting Republican presidents, the military or even NFL football in East Tennessee and expect to remain in good standing. I loved the book and will definitely reread it eventually, but honestly can’t think of a soul that I can pass it along to (something I tend to do a lot). It’s controversial and would be way out of my book club’s comfort zone. So, take the world-views of your fellow readers into consideration.

Thanks for noticing the William Morris tile! He was a brilliant man with a sense of style.

message 3: by Pat (new)

Pat You are welcome! Last year for my Christmas present I had a calligraphy done of the quote from William (if I may be so bold), "Have nothing in your house you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful" and my son framed it for me. Interestingly enough, he is also well know on his socialistic views. I gather that would not sit well at your book group either!
I am really glad to say that my group is delightfully on the liberal side. We have one gal, who is not,and she is in retail. I have chided her, very gently and called her Capitalist Pig. But we have agreed to change the subject if it gets too hotly contested. Like the election this past year. We have been together for 8 years and really enjoy the camaraderie. I just had my turn to choose and I will not be choosing till later in the year. But I am going to check this out and see if it is on CD.
I also told my family that if I ever changed my wallpaper in our dining room, which they hate- I would be choosing something William Morris!
Thanks for the recommendation!

message 4: by Emily (new) - added it

Emily I want to read it! I've heard great things, and your review sealed the deal for me.

Barbara Want me to send it to you through school mail?

Will Byrnes And a brilliant review

Barbara I’m disappointed that the Tournament of Books judge didn’t appreciate Billy Lynn’s finely tuned sense of irony, referring to the book as “a pretty straightforward red-state narrative of the Iraq war”. Oh well, maybe Billy will rise again in the zombie round.

Morning News Tournament of Books Opening Round.

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