In looking over the reviews we’ve done for this blog, I couldn’t help but notice how a majority of them are overwhelmingly positive four and five-star ratings. I initially thought I would try to write a negative review as my next entry, maybe something really scathing about a book I hated in order to diversify the content on our site, and that it would somehow give us more clout as reviewers to not constantly gush over everything.
But then it occurred to me: “Who wants to read a negative review?” We work in the Writing Center and write for this blog because we’re passionate about literature, and we want to share that passion with our fellow students and scholars. So with that being said, now I want to talk about a book that I absolutely LOVED.
Now, despite the fact that I’ve already reviewed both a book and a TV pilot about war on this blog, the truth is that war books are something I very rarely read. It just happens that I’ve read some extremely good ones this year, and I felt the desire to share my thoughts on them. Although as I get further into this review, hopefully you’ll agree with me that Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is as much about war as say Slaughterhouse Five is, even though both of these novels profoundly affected the way I view the military.
Author Ben Fountain jumps into the shoes of the titular Billy Lynn, a newly decorated war hero home on a “victory tour” as the face of the now famous Bravo Squad who are being paraded around the country for their courageous exploits in Iraq. However, much to their surprise and disappointment, Billy and the rest of Bravo Squad are scheduled to redeploy at the end of the week.
Though much is explored through flashbacks, most of the story takes place on the last day of the tour, as the squad is welcomed as special guests at the Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving game. Billy, not being much of a football fan, instead spends his time wandering the stadium, a mecca of American culture, taking it in at full force, and finding our consumer-driven way of life quite bizarre after everything he’s been through.
This novel drips with biting satire at every turn, dissecting the various aspects of post 9/11 American life such as: war, military culture, the media, Hollywood, fame, sports, pop-culture, and consumerism. Fountain’s commentary is not subtle either. In fact, at times he hits you over the head with it. Observations like: “Somewhere along the way, America became a mall with a country attached” really hammer home his points about our obsessions with new and shiny things; and he means in all aspects, from our latest toys to our latest wars.
All of this is achieved through the character of Billy. By his own admission, he’s a bit of a simpleton, and the truth is throughout the story he doesn’t really do very much. But it’s his running commentary that makes the story so compelling. The book needs to constantly remind us that Billy is only nineteen years old, because he often makes observations well beyond his years. He’s been to hell and back, and it shows. He exudes a modest wisdom that at times will make you want to laugh, cry, and sometimes both in the same sentence. Above all, what stands out about Billy is the fact that he pays attention to what’s going on around him, and that makes him the perfect vessel to point out what’s wrong with our country today.
Ultimately, the main point of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is that there is a disconnect in America, and everyone has their own agenda. There is a disconnect between billionaire sports franchise owners and their fans. There is a disconnect between those who report the news and those who take it in. There is a disconnect between those who support a war and those making all the decisions. And most importantly, there is a disconnect between those in positions of power, and the soldiers they send to fight for them.
In a perfect world, all these people would be on the same page, but as Ben Fountain points out, that is not the world we live in.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly who to recommend this book to. The message is clearly anti-war, but I think the content is still appealing regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum. If any of what I’ve said sounds interesting, you will like this book.