Saturday, July 6, 2013

Review: "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" by Ben Fountain

Of the two novels that deal with the War in Iraq that were nominated for the National Book Award last year, Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is clearly the inferior book. Or, to use a less negative term, it simply is not as good as Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds. While that novel deals with the gritty aspects of war without sentimentality or whimsy, Fountain’s novel focuses more on the absurd notions of this modern war and whether humor or hope is a possible product of its existence. But some people prefer that, so it really is just a matter of taste and what you prefer in what you read. Some respond well to humor, even when it’s placed within a dark situation, others like stark realism and bar-boned truths about life and living. But with that being said, there are some things this novel did that it really did not do well. We spend the entirety of the book inside the mind of Billy, an 18 year old army private, who, after he is a key player in the Bravo Squad’s heroic battle against Iraqi insurgents, becomes a national celebrity who, along with the rest of Bravo, go on a nation wide tour, ending with an appearance during a halftime show (headlined by Destiny’s Child) during the Thanksgiving Day game between the Cowboys and the Steelers at the now demolished Texas Stadium. Throughout the day he will fall in love with a beautiful cheerleader, learn the harsh details of the movie deal they have been negotiating, as well as some harsher truths about what lies ahead of him once his company is redeployed. The one thing this book has a lot of is charm, as well as a few key scenes involving their film agent Albert and the nefarious owner of the Cowboys, Norm. But these pieces fit together sloppily, leaving me questioning whether they had any point beyond just being there. And I felt the ending was a little too harsh and ambiguous, which contrasts to the somewhat lighthearted nature of the book. I should also mention the dialogue is painfully phony, and you can tell it was written by someone older who doesn’t relate to young people (judging from the author photo, Fountain seems to be in his 50’s). But, I found most of what I read a pleasurable experience. Even if you don’t love it, it is an easy book to like.
Rating: 4/5

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