Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: Reading "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk"

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Reading "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk"

Monday, September 16, 2013

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” has elements I tend to avoid in a book. Football--a sport I despise. War--something which I, apparently like most Americans, try to not think about. Texas--a long way from where I live, geographically, culturally, politically.  When football, war, and every over-the-top stereotype about Texas and Texans are brought together, the resulting stew of strangely compatible ingredients  does not make for the first book I’d grab off the shelf.

But, all of you for whom the same is true, listen: read this book. You will thank me. Well, you will more appropriately thank Ben Fountain for the beautifully nuanced writing that won him a National Book Award for this.  The premise of the book is that an Army unit engaged in a brutal fire-fight that was recorded by an “embedded” Fox reporter and played often enough on American television that the surviving soldiers become national heroes. They are on a two-week “victory” tour, though, in the spirit of the premature “mission accomplished,” they must return to Iraq for another eight months to finish out their deployment. 

The culminating event is their appearance in the halftime show at a Thanksgiving Day Cowboys-Bears game. Billy Lynn, the 19-year-old hero in battle and on the page, is a Texas boy, but not one of the tanned and tucked uber-privileged who gush over Bravo company in the owner’s lounge. We witness the spectacle through his eyes and ears, which filter a soup of references to “nina leven, terrR, currj,” the wheelings and dealings of a movie producer trying to get Bravo’s story on film (“They love it”...”They want to move it to World War II.”), and the halftime spectacular’s special effects that threaten to trigger  the soldiers’ PTSD symptoms. Billy, the book’s heart and its conscience, finds himself puzzled by how things start and grow--football teams, shopping malls, wars. 

This book transcends football and Texas and even war. It is thought-provoking at several levels, ambitious in its scope, and written with a pitch-perfect sense of dialogue and an ability to make language twist and bend and jump through hoops to say exactly what Fountain wants. Yes, I’ll say it again: read this book!

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