Monday, March 17, 2014

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain

Ben Fountain. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. New York: Ecco/HarperCollins, 2012. 307 pages. ISBN 9780060885618.

Billy Lynn is on a whirlwind tour of the United States during a two-week leave from the Iraq War. He has survived a fierce battle that was filmed and widely televised, and now he has to survive the media storm during his leave. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk tells the story of his last day in the U.S. before he's shipped back to the front. He's had his two-day visit with his family, and now has to spend his last day (Thanksgiving) participating in the halftime events of a Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears.

The day is full of photo ops and meet-and-greets, and the Bravo Squad members are the focus of everyone's attention. They meet the Cowboy's owners, the famous cheerleaders, and share (briefly) the halftime stage with Destiny's Child. Throughout the day they're bombarded with questions about the war and cheered on by the many supporters of the war. They're repeatedly asked to affirm the U.S.'s right to be fighting the war in Iraq, with many of their fans pointing to "nina leven" as the reason we're fighting there.

Because Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk was a finalist for the National Book Award, I had high expectations for it, and it didn't disappoint. The writing is very good and the characters are well-drawn. The book evokes strong emotion when Billy struggles with his indecision about returning to the war. One of his sisters is encouraging him to refuse to go back; her biggest fear is that he won't make it home again. While Billy is tempted by the fantasy of staying home, it's clear that this isn't really a possibility, as he would never leave his new family, the members of Bravo Squad. I recommend this book to anyone who likes contemporary fiction rooted in today's world events.

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