Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

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Ben Fountain

The battlefield in Ben Fountain's novel is Dallas Cowboy Stadium circa the early 90s.  The stadium, the NFL, Texas, Hollywood and corporate America are all sets where Billy Lynn tries to make sense of a recent firefight in Iraq that has made him and his surviving squad members celebrities.  They are on a "victory" tour, propped up to give voters a reason to support a war that is not going well.

The clever conceit of the book is to juxtapose the obscenity of war against the excess of American consumerism.   The Thanksgiving day stop at the stadium is the final stop on their odyssey before they had back to the front.  They are dealing with the surreal atmosphere of home compared to the now known terrain of war.  Both are extremes.

"No one spits, no one calls him baby killer.  On the contrary, people could not be more supportive or kindlier disposed, yet Billy finds these encounters weird and frightening all the same.   There's something harsh in his fellow Americans, avid, ecstatic, a burning that comes from the deepest need.  That's his sense of it, they all need something from him, this pack of half-rich lawyers, dentists, soccer moms and corporate VPs, they're all gnashing for a piece of a barely grown grunt making $14,800 a year."

The book is told from Lynn's point-of-view as he mourns lost "brothers," while reshuffling the place his own family plays in his life.  It all matters and yet it's a lot to process.

I started this book as a download from the library and since I didn't finish, I had a choice to make.  I needed to know how the story ended, so I bought the e-version. This short trip brought home the strange isolation of war -- for everyone involved.

This book came to my attention via the WSJ on-line book club.  The discussion was led by The Kite Runner author Khaled Hosseini.  Their May choice is Patricia Highsmith's Deep Water.  The discussion will be led by Gillian Flynn, who wrote Gone Girl.

Ben Fountain is the author of a short story.

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