Tuesday, December 8, 2015

#45 [2015/CBR7] "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" by Ben Fountain

I was in the middle of reading Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2012) by Ben Fountain when I accidentally stepped on my Kindle. Somehow my foot knocked my Kindle off airplane mode and the WiFi turned on, immediately returning all my overdue books back to the library. It wasn't until a couple of months later that I finally got Billy Lynn back on my Kindle and finished reading it. This isn't very important except that I'm pretty sure I would have gotten more out of this book without the giant break. There are a lot of characters, and their names and nicknames are already sometimes hard to keep straight. It does not help to lose your book in the midst.

According to the back cover: "Three minutes and forty-three seconds of intense warfare with Iraqi insurgents 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 support for the war. On this rainy Thanksgiving, the Bravos are guests of the Dallas Cowboys, slated to be part of the halftime show alongside Destiny's Child."

Among the Bravos is Billy Lynn, only nineteen years old, he joined the military because he didn't have much else in the way of options. Now he's struggling with the gruesome death of his sergeant and mentor, the fear of going back to war, the family drama of his one-day visit home, and dealing with the adulation of strangers who have no understanding of his experience. The book focuses on Billy, but you can see that the other members of Billy's squad deal with their stress in varying ways.

The juxtaposition of the sparkling NFL game with the reality of war was pretty haunting. On the one hand, the Bravo squad is adored, taken about in limos, given free drinks, and a part of the stage show with Beyonce. On the other hand, none of their admirers understands that they will be going back to war in two days, or that they are struggling to act normal under this barrage of attention. The halftime show is more of a PTSD marathon to survive than anything. When it comes down to it, it's obvious that football is just more important than the lives and experiences of Billy and his squad. This is very visible when the Bravo squad visit the players in the locker room and later, when a couple of squad members get a tour of the Dallas Cowboys' equipment room--a warehouse with every possible football accoutrement you could imagine.

This book was powerful and well written. My only issue was that the book jumped around so much in the beginning that I had a hard time figuring out who was who, what had happened to them, and what was happening. Again, this may have been less of a problem if I hadn't lost my digital copy, but it did make me feel less connected while I tried to figure things out. Recommended.

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