Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: A Novel

By Ben Fountain

(Ecco, $25.99, 320 pages)

Who is this author?

Ben Fountain, who lives in Dallas, is a multi-award-winning author and journalist. How multi, exactly? Very. He has won a PEN/Hemingway Award, Barnes & Noble Discover Award for Fiction, Whiting Writers Award, O.Henry Prize, two Pushcart Prizes and two Texas Institute of Letters Short Story Awards, among others. His fiction has appeared in Harper’s, The Paris Review, Zoetrope: All-Story, and Stories from the South: The Year’s Best, and his nonfiction in The New York Times and The New York Times Sunday Magazine and other publications.

What is this book about?

War.  Sports.  America’s ongoing love affair with both. A pumped-up patriotism that’s more about bluster than true love of country. Taking place on a Thanksgiving Day, the story brings the eight Bravo Squad survivors of a less than four-minute firefight in Iraq on a media Victory Tour to Texas, to be in the halftime show at a Cowboys game with Destiny’s Child and Beyonce. At the center is Billy Lynn: a 19-year-old Texan, a virgin and a sudden hero. He meets the team’s owner and his fat-cat friends, a born-again but sexy Dallas cheerleader, a Hollywood mogul and giant-size footballers who fight their war on the gridiron. Billy learns a lot that day, about courage, love, America, himself and  his unhappy family, along with hard truths about war and the men and women it changes forever.

Why you’ll like it:

“Billy Lynn” is a finalist for the National Book Award, and reviewers everywhere are comparing it to the surreally farcical yet powerful treatment of war in such classics as “Catch-22” and “Slaughterhouse Five.” The book is earning plaudits for its satirical power, its razor-sharp evisceration of the pompous and phony, its often hilarious dialogue and the strong appeal of the main character, an innocent in a world of wolves who demonstrates a different kind of bravery in the course of one crazy-making day than he did in his moment of glory in Iraq. War is hell, and it’s brutally absurd, too, as Fountain brilliantly shows us.

What others are saying:

The New York Times calls it “[An] inspired, blistering war novel…Though it covers only a few hours, the book is a gripping, eloquent provocation. Class, privilege, power, politics, sex, commerce and the life-or-death dynamics of battle all figure in Billy Lynn’s surreal game day experience.”

Harper’s Magazine says:  “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a big one. This is the brush-clearing Bush book we’ve been waiting for.”

 “A masterful echo of ‘Catch-22,’ with war in Iraq at the center. …a gut-punch of a debut novel…There’s hardly a false note, or even a slightly off-pitch one, in Fountain’s sympathetic, damning and structurally ambitious novel,” says The Washington Post.

Says Sports Illustrated: “Seething, brutally funny…[Fountain] leaves readers with a fully realized band of brothers…Fountain’s readers will never look at an NFL Sunday, or at America, in quite the same way.”

“…witty and ironic sendup of middle America, Fox News politics, and, of all things, football. One minute, the soldiers are drinking Jack and Cokes, mobbed by hordes of well-wishers demanding autographs and seeking “the truth” about what’s “really going on” over there; the next, they’re in the bowels of Texas Stadium, reluctantly hobnobbing with the Dallas Cowboys and their cheerleaders, brokering a movie deal with a smarmy Hollywood producer, and getting into a drunken scuffle with the stadium’s disgruntled road crew, all in a series of uncomfortable scenes that border on the farcical. Texan Billy Lynn is the 19-year-old hero who learns about life and himself on his visit home to his family, and the palpable camaraderie between soldiers ground the book. …” says Publishers Weekly.

Kirkus Reviews says:  “Hailed as heroes on a stateside tour before returning to Iraq, Bravo Squad discovers just what it has been fighting for. Though the shell-shocked humor will likely conjure comparisons with Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse Five, the debut novel by Fountain … focuses even more on the cross-promotional media monster that America has become than it does on the absurdities of war. …Providing the novel with its moral compass is protagonist Billy Lynn, a 19-year-old virgin from small-town Texas who has been inflated into some kind of cross between John Wayne and Audie Murphy for his role in a rescue mission documented by an embedded Fox News camera. In two days, the Pentagon-sponsored “Victory Tour” will end and Bravo will return to the business as usual of war. In the meantime, they are dealing with a producer trying to negotiate a film deal (“Think Rocky meets Platoon,” though Hilary Swank is rumored to be attached), glad-handing with the corporate elite of Cowboy fandom (and ownership) and suffering collateral damage during a halftime spectacle with Beyoncé. Over the course of this long, alcohol-fueled day, Billy finds himself torn, as he falls in love (and lust) with a devout Christian cheerleader and listens to his sister try to persuade him that he has done his duty and should refuse to go back. As “Americans fight the war daily in their strenuous inner lives,” Billy and his foxhole brethren discover treachery and betrayal beyond anything they’ve experienced on the battlefield….”

When is it available?

It’s on the new book shelf at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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