Thursday, November 1, 2012

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: A NovelRating: 5
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
A Novel by Ben Fountain
Nominated for the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction
2012 / 268 Pages (ebook)
Goodreads Synopsis

Thirteen of the last eighteen books I have read would be considered "British Literature".  So I was looking forward to reading some "American Literature" when the National Book Award nominees were released.  However, I cringed to see two "Iraq War" stories in the list of 5 fiction NBA nominees.  Blech!  I love WWI and WWII historical fiction, but just don't have a care in the world to read anything about current events - especially something as controversial as the dang Iraq War.  I chose to go ahead and get one of the two "Iraq" books out of the way by mimicking my friend Aaron and reading the NBAs in the same order he did.  As he chose Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk to read first, I did too.  And I was blown away! Billy Lynn... was one of the best books I have read all year!

The story starts as you find a squad of young Army guys getting ready to attend a Dallas Cowboys football game which is the cap on a two week victory tour following a horrific battle in Iraq.  We quickly meet 19 year old Billy Lynn - the battle's main hero.  Billy joins the Army after an unfortunate incident right before his high school graduation.  The reader gets a front row seat inside of Billy's head to witness his maturity process and at the same time we are shown some really crazy truths about the United States and all Americans - and the reader might even mature some along the way as well.

I absolutely love Billy and the voice Ben Fountain gave him.  I am amazed at how easy it was to believe he was only 19. Yet, I loved seeing his struggle to become more mature.  One of my favorite techniques that Fountain used was just a page of jumbled words representing the thoughts swirling around in Billy's head.  How totally typical is it for a 19 year old boy to just space out?  However, the best part of the book was how Fountain was able to point out so many inconsistencies we Americans allow to transpire in our everyday lives without blinking at them.  For instance, we allow a NINETEEN YEAR OLD BOY to join the army and FIGHT FOR OUR FREEDOM.  To do this they have to carry MASSIVE FIREARMS and KILL OTHER PEOPLE.  Hmmm, but they can't legally drink until they are 21?  I totally don't think lowering the drinking age makes much sense, but does having nineteen year old fight for our freedoms make any sense either?   One of my favorite quotes:

Norm is laughing.  What cards these Bravos are, what a grab-ass band of brothers.  Okay, so maybe they aren't the greatest generation by anyone's standard, but they are surely the best of the bottom third percentile of their own somewhat muddled and suspect generation.

Another glaring inconstancy brought out in this book is that fact that we pay millions of dollars to our pampered athletes and we provide them with equipment worth millions more, so they can be the strongest "gladiators" in their field uh, for, uh something so important as tossing a ball around.  How much do we pay our little 19 year old kids and what kind of equipment do we provide them to PROTECT OUR LIVES?

This book is chock full of these inconsistencies, yet the book does not come across as preachy.  It is actually hilarious containing many laugh out loud moments.  I have read more portions of it aloud to anyone who would listen than any other book ever. I am guessing that some people are so clueless they will miss some of the truths this book contains.

As far as recommending the book to others, it basically fails my "would I recommend it to my mother" test.  The book does contain a lot of adult language and sexual references.  However, we are in the mind of a 19 year old boy maturing into a messed up world - the language and sexual references are plainly a part of this world and the book would not be the same without them.  So, yes, I will recommend this one to my mom and dad and all Americans everywhere.

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