Literary Award Winners Fiction Book Club discussion

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
This topic is about Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Past Reads > Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, 1) Beginning through XXL

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message 1: by Janine (last edited Feb 01, 2015 02:19PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Janine | 100 comments Mod
Discussion from the beginning through to chapter XXL.

Irene will be leading the discussion for our February 2015 read. Thanks Irene!

message 2: by Katy (new) - rated it 1 star

Katy (kathy_h) Just started. Got this for $1.99 on my Kindle. It does start out with a bang.

message 3: by Katy (last edited Feb 02, 2015 10:04PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Katy (kathy_h) Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Halftime Performance with Destiny's Child

On Thanksgiving 2004, the DCC participated in a halftime performance with Destiny's Child, military personnel and the Prairie View A&M (PVAMU) marching band.

Mr. Fountain has said that his idea for this book came from contemplating the wild incongruities he saw on television that day. (see this article:

Janine | 100 comments Mod
A few discussion points for those reading this month's book:

-- What is Billy's "long halftime walk"? What is the significance of the book's title?
-- Do the young men from Bravo meet your expectations of what war heroes are...or should be? Do you find the author's portrayal of them funny ... offensive ... realistic...?
-- The book makes parallels between the world of football (especially the Cowboys) and the military. What is the author trying to get at by setting up comparisons between the two?
-- How does religion, or religiosity, fare in this book? What is Billy's attitude toward God and prayer?
-- There is a theme of class distinction in the book. What do you think about the references to social class?

Mary (maryingilbert) | 67 comments I found the author's portrayal of the solders to be realistic. Many, many years ago I served in the military for 7 years. The dialogue and the character descriptions rang true for me.

Irene | 524 comments DRAT! I just had this incredibly insightful post written. Just before I hit "post", my computer did a black out. Unfortunately, I only have one insightful post per year and this one is now gone.

Thanks for the questions.

Until the end of the book, I thought the title referred to the half time show in which the Bravo Company boys were forced to participate. At the end, I thought it was this "half time" in Billy's time of service, a time when he has to wrestle with the temptation to flee from his remaining tour of duty or to fulfill his commitment to his contract and brothers.

I thought the portrayal of the boys was realistic. However, I did not think of them as heros. And, I think that was part of the story. Billy does not think of them as heros either, just responding to a situation according to their training.

I thought that the author was hammering hard on the dychotomy between the civilians' patriotic applause and their superficial commitment to the war and soldiers. The civilians might give standing ovations when the boy's' images show up on the jumbo tron, allow them to be first in the buffet line, but as soon as the weather turns bad, the game is over, people want to go home, the boys are invisible. While the boys are living with constant mortal danger and unpleasant conditions, civilians continue to spend lavishly on luxuries. The half time show and the movie offer turn this story into sheer entertainment; these spectacles exploit the boys. The civilians appear to have as much ambivluence toward the war as does Billy, but with far less consciousness of it.

Janine | 100 comments Mod
I'm still to start on this book. But really intersting to hear the views of others.

I found your comments after the black out very insightful, Irene. If any of your earlier insightful thoughts come to mind, it would be great if you could share them!

Irene | 524 comments Eager to read your thoughts when you have read it.

message 9: by Darcy (new)

Darcy | 28 comments I'm curious about how other people felt about the novel being mostly in present tense. It seems to me that a lot of readers really hate novels in first person, but it doesn't seem like it turned many of you off?

Irene | 524 comments The present tense gave an immediacy to the story. We were not allowed the luxury of time to reflect on what happened. We got the more raw reaction, not filtered by time.

Angus (angusmiranda) The choice of tense depends on what things the novel will tackle. If the mood is going to be introspective, as if there were a search for something in the past, it would be best to write it in the past tense.

In the case of Billy Lynn, I like that it's in the present tense because there are two major arcs being told to us (the football game in the present and the war time in Iraq in the past). The tenses of the verbs make it easier for us to distinguish where the events belong.

I have yet to give full thoughts on the book as I'm only on page 70-something. I think I can answer one of the guide questions though:

There is a theme of class distinction in the book. What do you think about the references to social class?

When speaking about social class, the tone shifts to a sarcasm that is both mocking and self-deprecating. I like how Fountain achieves this. It makes the book humorous, and there is so much truth in humor.

One more thing: I like novels in the first person. It gives me a chance to doubt the things that the narrator is saying. I like this exercise in reading. I guess it's just a matter of personal quirk.

Irene | 524 comments I thought this novel was in the third person, all be it, closely linked to Billy's experience alone. But, Billy is only referred to as "me" or "I" when he is speaking. When actions are being described, he is named in the third person. The narrator is not Billy, even though the narrator only gives us Billy's experience.

message 13: by Darcy (new)

Darcy | 28 comments Oops, I meant present tense in my post, not first person! Very few readers, in my experience, hate first-person perspective, but quite a lot of them don't like present tense :)

But you're right, Irene--it's a narrator who relies pretty heavily on free indirect style. Even the first page makes that clear, when the narrator shifts into the scattered words filtering through Billy's mind.

Irene | 524 comments I did find that shifting a bit jarring at times. The narrator seems to be omnipotent, giving us the inner workings of Billy Lynn, but limitedly omnipotent since we are never allowed the inner world of any other character. And, there were plenty of times when the narrator steps back, narrates from a bit of a distance from Billy instead of being in his head.

Michelle Burton (goneabroad71) | 12 comments I think part of the reason the present tense works so well for this particular book is that the future is hanging over them in such a real, immediate way -- when this day wraps up, they are going back to the war and to a whole different life. That knowledge makes the day at the football game so interesting -- in one sense they are incredibly bored most of the time. But on the other hand, they aren't wishing for time to pass faster. The way time is dragging is, I think, comforting.

Irene | 524 comments Michelle, I had not thought of that angle, but it is so true.

message 17: by Darcy (new)

Darcy | 28 comments Yeah, that's a lovely point. And perhaps it helps explain why Fountain switched the tenses--a lot of stories are written in past tense with flashbacks in the present as a way of demonstrating how the narrator/character cannot escape the past. But Billy cannot escape the future.

Janine | 100 comments Mod
Kathy wrote: "Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Halftime Performance with Destiny's Child

On Thanksgiving 2004, the DCC participated in a halftime performance with Destiny's Child, military personnel and the Prairie ..."

I read this article, Kathy, and found it interesting. But because I'm not in the US, I can't access the YouTube clip. It's copyright restricted... I would have liked to have seen in!

I'm also interested in your views - you only rated in 1 star and I'm curious to know what didn't work about it for you?

Janine | 100 comments Mod
I've finally made it to XXL and while I initially thought I wasn't going to like this book, it's grown on me.

I do think at times it's trying to achieve too much - covering a young man's existential angst over life and death, and then also issues about sacrifice, family, religion, social class, love, and friendship / 'mateship'.

I didn't really notice the present tense until Darcy mentioned it here, and for some reason I think it's because it seems to work. Michelle's point about the tense is a good one - and the future hanging over them. The boredom and the time dragging is one of the early aspects of the book that frustrated me. I like the points Darcy and Angus make about the switching tenses and the flashbacks. For me, those reflections on the past in Iraq and earlier parts of their victory tour helped me to get into the book a bit more.

I also agree with Irene's point about the narration - it's clearly from Billy's perspective, but a bit odd when the narration steps further back from Billy's thoughts and becomes more philosophical than I'd have expected from a 21yo.

Some of the angles I am enjoying include:
- Billy's struggle with the randomness of death, the use of superstitious rituals by the team to challenge this randomness, and for some the resort to prayer and faith. I think it's interesting that Billy strongly distinguishes between those who minister religion and religious faith itself. He's non-committal in his faith, and increasingly seems questioning of any higher power.
- Billy's interaction with his family and his changed perspective on what his family means to him since faced with the realities of life as death (and regardless of their imperfections). I liked the portrayal of the family - it felt real. The father, while now having a disability, is not a likeable man and the author doesn't stereotype him or the father/son relationship in the context of pride and soldiers.

I've also got further views about heroism, and also the football/war relationship, but this comment is already too long!, so I'll incorporate it in my next comments.

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