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Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2012)

by Ben Fountain

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,72312510,044 (3.89)164
A satire set in Texas during America's war in Iraq that explores the gaping national disconnect between the war at home and the war abroad. Follows the surviving members of the heroic Bravo Squad through one exhausting stop in their media-intensive "Victory Tour" at Texas Stadium, football mecca of the Dallas Cowboys, their fans, promoters, and cheerleaders.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 123 (next | show all)
Entertaining novel about a team of soldiers returning from Iraq for 2 weeks to be feted as heroes after being involved in a televised skirmish with insurgents. Most of the novel takes place at a Dallas Cowboys game where they are being honoured at half-time. It's a fairly black comedy, although contrary to the quotes it is no Catch-22.

The main characters are well defined, although there seems (to this bleeding-heart liberal) a left-wing bias (i.e., most of the sympathetic characters have some liberal leanings). I liked the charismatic sergeant characters, though questioned whether a single team would have two such iconoclasts - stretched my credulity a bit.

Fountain plays around with some experimental techniques - structured layout of text, word-cloud-type constructions - and tries to convey the actual mental state of the soldiers, and what effect war and death has on a young person. Good attempts without being revolutionary.

Overall, it's enjoyable, but maybe less than the sum of its parts (and the title doesn't really work). This would be a 3.5, but I'll bump up. ( )
  thisisstephenbetts | Nov 25, 2023 |
Very entertaining satirical anti-war or perhaps anti-American culture novel. National Book Award finalist. ( )
  markm2315 | Jul 1, 2023 |
The cover of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk trumpets it as Catch-22 for the Iraq War. While that's the hyperbole you'd expect from a cover blurb, there's an element of truth in it. The book does hold a mirror up to US society and the rather strange way that many Americans related to the war in Iraq as something noble and admirable, but not something they needed to actually make any sacrifices for, or get personally involved in.

Billy Lynn is an infantry grunt who gets involved in a battle that is captured on video by an embedded camera team. He and the rest of his Bravo squad are filmed rushing to the rescue of a fallen comrade and wiping out an insurgent cell against great odds. After screening on Fox News, the video goes viral and Bravo are American heroes du jour.

The Bravo squad are brought back home for a Victory Tour, which is pretty transparently a war propaganda exercise. Fountain gently mocks the earnestness with which rich Americans cozy up to the Bravos and make lots of noises about thanking them for their sacrifice and supporting the troops. Yet when the rights are discussed for a Hollywood film about Bravo's accomplishments, there is surprising little eagerness to thank and support them in any material sense.

Most of the book takes place on the last day of the Tour, where the Bravos are the guests of the Dallas Cowboys at a game. The owner and his coterie fawn all over the soldiers and wheel them around in a fashion that is blatantly about using their heroics to promote the game. Meanwhile the film rights negotiations are stalled, the soldiers are getting drunk and stroppy, and Billy is falling in love with a cheerleader while his sister hounds him via text to desert. All this occurs while Billy is keenly aware that the next day he will be winging his way bcd to Iraq, with no certainty that he will survive.

Fountain does a splendid job of juxtaposing the romanticised view of the soldiers' heroics held by the Stateside war supporters, who gush their support without ever dreaming of making a real contribution, with the reality of these rough-and-tumble poorly-educated street kids who are honestly described by their sergeant to one fan's horror as "cold-blooded killers".

Billy himself is a really sympathetic character; a poorly-educated juvenile criminal who signed up to avoid jail and then found himself a Youtube hero without even understanding why. He tries to puzzle through the reactions to Bravo's battle and reconcile them with his own experience. As he does so, you suspect that even as a 19 year old, there is a battle-hardened wisdom in Billy that the wheelers and dealers who try to exploit him will never attain.

Fountain's book does not go near Heller in terms of nailing the insanity of war, but he does an excellent job of capturing the emptiness of the "support-the-troops" rhetoric from people who do nothing more than watch the war on TV. If I would fault this book, I think it would be that Fountain doesn't do more with the actual battle. I was expecting him to flesh the battle out as the plot developed to give us more insight into Billy and his comrades-in-arms, but Fountain drops it about one-third of the way through and chooses instead to focus on events at the game. I also think more could have been done with the sub-plot regarding Billy's temptation to desert, which was pretty cursorily dealt with. These are not major concerns however; the book is still an excellent read. ( )
  gjky | Apr 9, 2023 |
I liked this book much more than I thought I was going to. Highly vivid, it makes you feel right there "in the moment" with Billy on that one Sunday afternoon. Hugely successful at contrasting the reality being lived by the remote and hidden away soldiers of the "all volunteer" US military fighting the "war on terror", and the empty patriorism of the American public at home who haven't a clue about what it's really like and why it is even happening at all. Not that the soldiers know that either, which only compounds the tragedy. Add in the chilling pictures of who really holds power in America and you begin to understand why this book has received the acclaim it has. ( )
  Octavia78 | Nov 28, 2021 |
The American War Fantasy

Published in 2012 Ben Fountain's award-winning debut novel Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk paints a wildly satirical picture of America at war, in this case the Iraq War. It's worth reading now when we find ourselves in a period of rampant and perilous nationalism. Powerful ideas of exceptionalism, of military strength, of unilateralism, of being the chosen ones liberally laced with fear and xenophobia, these heady ideas all thriving today can lead to dangerous and deadly missteps, as they did in Iraq, and before that Vietnam.

Succinctly, Bravo Company engages in a brief firefight that Fox News captures on film and that then spreads like wildfire. The soldiers of Bravo find themselves declared national heroes and their short encounter dubbed "The Battle of Al-Ansakar Canal." They are brought home to be fêted in overblown American fashion, as stars of the Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day halftime show. The novel focuses on nineteen-year-old Billy Lynn's reactions to the firefight and the American celebration of himself and his comrades.

Depending on your background and political viewpoint, different aspects of Fountain's fierce novel will resonate more with you than it will with others. Veterans will probably relate to most of Bravo Company's experiences. Business types might enjoy the insane path of the movie producer's negotiations to make a film about Bravo's skirmish for live, and resurrect his own career. Readers who like sharp writing will revel in Fountain's wicked way with scenes.

However, what most fascinates and constitutes the merit of the book is Fountain's piercing view of American popular culture, in particular how we cherish and need to reaffirm in our own minds our righteous role in the world. He focuses on this repeatedly until it strikes you as almost absurd, until it rings completely hollow and ultimately sounds like desperation. Because underneath all the protestations of the justice of deposing a dictator and establishing a democracy, lingering in the unconscious of the most avid drum beaters, is the belief (or suspicion in the most invested): we made a terrible and costly mistake invading Iraq. Here's the idea expressed late in the story in the most stark terms:

"Being honored feels a lot like work and it's worse out there on the aisle, sitting point for the Bravo-citizen interface. Yes sir, thank you sir. Yes ma'am, having a great time, absolutely. Billy passes programs down the row for everybody to autograph and has to make conversation while they come back. It's getting better, don't you think? It was worth it, don't you think? We had to do it, don't you think? He wishes that just once somebody would call him baby-killer, but this doesn't seem to occur to them, that babies have been killed. Instead they talk about democracy, development, dubya em dees. They want so badly to believe, he'll give them that much, they are as fervent as children insisting Santa Claus is real because once you stop believing, well, what then, maybe he doesn't come anymore?"

The skin in the game for those greeting the Bravos, and for just about everybody in the country, is American exceptionalism, the justice of the effort, born of the belief that we alone have the answer. And you wonder, what if people had real skin in the game, the same as was had in Vietnam? That is the universal draft (executed tighter than in the Vietnam era) instead of a paid military. That and clear-eyed acceptance of what really happened in Vietnam? Then would those in power be as fast to march off to war? Further, what of today, when bullying and aggression seem to be the approaches most favored by our president and his sycophants? ( )
  write-review | Nov 4, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 123 (next | show all)
Every two or three years, if I'm lucky, I get my hands on a novel that I simply can't shut up about, a novel I shout from my humble mountaintop to anyone who will listen, a novel that I hand-sell any time I have a literate audience of one or more. In many cases, I'll purchase this novel, over and over and over, and put it in the hands of readers....One novel this year blew the top of my head off like no other, and that was Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain....

No brow-beating, no navel gazing and no ranting. Just great storytelling, fully realized characters and sentences that crackle. In short, Fountain makes it look easy.
added by zhejw | editNPR, Jonathan Evison (Nov 28, 2012)
The novel is niftily postmodern, in that it deals with a heavily mediated reality. Bravo squad aren't even called Bravo squad, but that was what the "Fox embed" christened them. They hear their story being spun in real time: "Carl, what can I say?" says Albert, the movie producer, on the phone. "It's a war picture – not everybody gets out alive." The stadium is dominated by the huge "Jumbotron" screen; Billy wonders whether "maybe the game is just an ad for the ads". But Fountain, like better-known writers of his generation such as Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace, has dragged this ironic, media-saturated style back in the direction of sincerity, with rich, sharply drawn characters that you care about. Beneath the dazzle, there's a story as old and simple as Kipling's poem "Tommy": "They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls, / But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!"
added by zhejw | editThe Guardian, Theo Tait (Jul 6, 2012)
The irony, sorrow, anger and examples of cognitive dissonance that suffuse this novel make it one of the most moving and remarkable novels I've ever read.
added by zhejw | editNPR, Nance Pearl (May 21, 2012)
There’s hardly a false note, or even a slightly off-pitch one, in Fountain’s sympathetic, damning and structurally ambitious novel. (The whole story, with the exception of a flashback or two, takes place during the course of a single afternoon.) Billy and the other Bravos are, for the most part, uneducated, but they possess a rare intelligence that allows them to see things as they really are, which is not exactly the way the pro-war meme generators want Americans to see them.

By the novel’s end, we’re forced to reassess what it means to “support the troops.” Does it simply mean letting them know they’re in our prayers as we send them back into battle and go about our business? Does it mean turning them into gaudy celebrities? Or could there perhaps be a more honorable and appropriately humble way to commemorate their service? “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” asks us to consider the uncomfortable possibility that we don’t really know the answer anymore.

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ben Fountainprimary authorall editionscalculated
Biermann, PiekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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For my parents
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The men of Bravo are not cold.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A satire set in Texas during America's war in Iraq that explores the gaping national disconnect between the war at home and the war abroad. Follows the surviving members of the heroic Bravo Squad through one exhausting stop in their media-intensive "Victory Tour" at Texas Stadium, football mecca of the Dallas Cowboys, their fans, promoters, and cheerleaders.

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A ferocious firefight with Iraqi insurgents at "the battle of Al-Ansakar Canal"—three minutes and forty-three seconds of intense warfare 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. For the past two weeks, the Bush administration has sent them on a media-intensive nationwide Victory Tour to reinvigorate public support for the war. Now, on this chilly and rainy Thanksgiving, the Bravos are guests of America's Team, the Dallas Cowboys, slated to be part of the halftime show alongside the superstar pop group Destiny's Child.
Un accrochage avec des insurgés irakiens . Trois minutes quarante - trois de pure violence filmées par Fox News, désormais en boucle sur Youtube et les huit survivants de la compagnie Bravo deviennent du jour au lendemain les enfants chéris de l'Amérique . Billy Lynn ne pense, comme ses frères d'armes qu'à une seule chose : profiter au maximum de ses derniers jours de permission . Repartira t il pour l'Irak , laissant derrière lui ses illusions et son innocence ?
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