Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

by Ben Fountain

Overview : Three minutes and forty-three seconds of intensive warfare with Iraqi insurgents—caught on tape by an embedded Fox News crew—has transformed the eight surviving men of Bravo Squad into America’s most sought-after heroes. Now they’re on a media-intensive nationwide tour to reinvigorate public support for the war. On this rainy Thanksgiving Day, the Bravos are guests of a Dallas football team, slated to be part of the halftime show.

Among the Bravos is nineteen-year-old Specialist Billy Lynn. Surrounded by patriots sporting flag pins on their lapels and support our troops bumper stickers, he is thrust into the company of the team’s owner and his coterie of wealthy colleagues; a born-again cheerleader; a veteran Hollywood producer; and supersized players eager for a vicarious taste of war. Over the course of this day, Billy will drink and brawl, yearn for home and mourn those missing, face a heart-wrenching decision and discover pure love and a bitter wisdom far beyond his years.

Poignant, riotously funny, and exquisitely heartbreaking, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a searing and powerful novel that has cemented Ben Fountain’s reputation as one of the finest writers of his generation.

Elaine Marlin (01/01/17): The previous review was spot on and presented a detailed summary of this unusual novel. Billy Lynn is the main character. At age 19, he just moves through life, without thinking that he has choices. He is a soldier in Bravo unit, in the army, during the Iraq war. He is well trained and takes this training and his job quite seriously. He is surprised when he and several of the Bravo soldiers have been singled out because of video taken by imbedded photographers showing their heroic act under fire with insurgents in Iraq. They are invited on a two week tour of the country , basically so that the general public can thank them for their service to our country, and for making our country safe. The public is grateful that soldiers are doing their duty to protect us. The public fawn all over the Bravos, touching them, thanking them, giving them things.

Billy is mourning the death of his fellow soldier, Shroom, who died in his arms during the attack. Billy was given a medal for his heroism during that attack. A famous Hollywood movie producer wants to sell their story, and spends most of the novel trying to make deals: who might want to star in the movie about the Bravo soldiers, who might put up money to fund the movie, etc. He is also trying to be sure those soldiers get paid for their participation in this story. He is a wheeler and deeler and the Bravos love him!

All of the group are able to take a few days to visit their families, and we learn about Billy and his relationship to his sisters, active little nephew, his cold and distant father, and wonderful long suffering mother. His older sister is heartbroken that Billy must return to the front, and harps on him to call a secret organization who might help and hide him so that he will not have to return to active duty. She feels he has done his part and should be allowed to stay in the United States and not return to the dangers he has already left. He does not take this seriously for much of the novel.

Much of the story takes place on a Thanksgiving day at home football game, as the Dallas Cowboys play in Dallas, at their mammoth football stadium. The Bravos are feted and wined and dined in the private skyboxes and internal area where the important and extremely wealthy fans hang out. The owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who in the novel is named Norman Oglesby: "Norm", is a very overwhelming and almost ominous character. (Is he patterned after Jerry Jones?). He presents as a very, very patriotic person. The Bravos, as the extremely cold afternoon and evening progress, realize he is very keen on being in complete charge, and winning is everything to him! He is everywhere, involved in every aspect of his team and those who make the team function. Billy and his Sergeant are wary and suspicious that the reason they were invited at all was for show, and to increase attendance and interest in the Dallas Cowboys.

Each of the Bravos are very tough men: fighters of course!! They also are very close knit and their camaraderie and love for each other is always evident. They "play' insult each other, but are so tight! There is a very vivid section which is the half-time show, where the Bravos are paraded and made to stand at attention in frigid weather. They become very antsy as they realize they are just being used in a huge production which is the half -time "exhibition" of excess!! There is also the movie deal, which involves "Norm", who decides to start his own movie company so that he can make the movie about the firefight on his own terms. He is vicious in his dealings, underhanded and the Sergeant in charge, Dime, decides at the end to leave without signing anything. He just wants to get his men back to their base.

One other side story is Billy's meeting and instant mutual attraction with one of the new Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. There is really no time for them to really get to know each other. It is a wonderful part of the novel, because Billy determines how important being in love is, even if it is a fleeting time. The novelist Ben Fountain's use of language and inner thoughts and feelings is quite graphic and wild. He has command of this story from beginning to end. He does not let the readers know the final outcome until the very end, and the reader is swept up in Billy's feelings and thoughts and we are on this wild "walk" all along to find out what Billy will do. Novelist Fountain is also intensely critical of the wealth and excesses of large corporations and businesses. One sentence describes his view: "Somewhere along the way America became a giant mall with a country attached."

I read the book knowing that a movie was being made by the director Ang Lee. I will look forward to seeing the movie. I recommend this novel. The language is raunchy at times, but get past that, and you will see the inner workings of power, wealth, class differences, fear, and group strength. I am glad I read the novel. I recommend it !
Rating: ****

Ricki Brodie (05/06/13): The story revolves around a nineteen year old soldier, Billy Lynn, and his 7 squad mates who became national/media heroes after Fox News captures the Iraqi battle. They are sent back to the US for a two week victory tour to garner public support for the war. The last stop, participation in the Dallas Cowboys halftime show.

The team owner wants Billy and the other soldiers to meet his rich friends and put on a game face for the public. They meet the team members who volunteer to “bust some raghead ass,” fans; and Billy, a virgin, meets a born-again gorgeous cheerleader. There is an agent trying to get a Hollywood deal for their story before they leave to go back to the war the next day. They are dealing with many emotions. Billy is also mourning the death of Shroom, the sergeant who Billy looked up to and died in his arms.

The novel shows, over a single day the struggles facing Billy, how his family is coping and what potentially lies ahead. He will drink, fight, find love and make the hardest decision of his life. Fountain shows the visceral in a backdrop of consumerism and glitz. What is the protest? The war? The way we treat our soldiers? Could we make the hard decision?
Rating: ****

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