Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2012, 267 pp
I enjoyed reading this novel. Ben Fountain won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, was a contender in the Tournament of Books, and had written daily for 18 years before his first book was published. He knows about dreams, struggle, and delayed rewards.
Billy Lynn is one of several novels to come out recently about the war in Iraq. I haven't read any of the others so I can't say it is the best, but it is a good one.
The eight soldiers in this novel are the survivors of a firefight with Iraqui insurgents. Because a Fox News tape of the battle went viral, Bravo Squad became America's most famous heroes of the moment. Due to falling public support for the war, they have been dispatched on a nationwide media "Victory Tour" and for Billy Lynn and his comrades it is a Magical Mystery Tour as surrealistic as anything ever conceived by John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
I can't imagine what this would be like, being feted and fawned over, fed and boozed and drugged, back in the USA with full blown PTSD and knowing all the while that you would return to the war to finish your tour of duty. Yes, you survived but you still stand a 99% chance of being killed.
Ben Fountain imagined it for me. Billy gets to have an early Thanksgiving dinner with his mother and sister, he and Bravo Squad spend a hungover day at the Dallas Cowboys stadium and participate with nearly disastrous results in the halftime show alongside Destiny's Child. Billy, who has a crashing headache all day but can't find a single aspirin, falls in love/lust with a cheerleader. A Hollywood agent has come along on the tour, trying to get a movie deal for the squad, promising untold riches, if it happens, if they live to see it.
Billy Lynn is a 19-year-old Texas native. He is just a guy with no prospects, barely any experience except as a soldier and tries to process what he sees. It is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking.
The novel could be called anti-war, anti-American, anti-big business, and I suppose it is. Fountain portrays us as we are and it's not pretty. When the Dixie Chicks protested the war, it ultimately ruined their career. Billy and his buddies are faced with a similar quandary but enough time has passed that Ben Fountain made his career instead.
What a country. What a world. When will we ever learn?
(Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)