'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' by Ben Fountain
Billed by critics as “the Catch-22 of the Iraq War”, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk immediately jumped out at me as a book worth checking out.
The book follows the story of the titular character, part of ‘Bravo Squad’, a squad of infantrymen touring the USA after a successful action in Iraq. Whilst ostensibly a novel about war, the story in fact takes place of a single day at a football stadium in Dallas, the group’s final stop before redeploying to Iraq.
The action which shot them to national fame is described in only the smallest details, snapshots of Billy’s memories as he struggles to deal with the fawning adoration of a public besotted by these uniformed symbols of the ‘War on Terror’, giving the reader the very real impression that the action, in spite of its appearance on national television, is viewed by the Bravos as a private moment which has been intruded on by the public.
Ben Fountain’s satirical image of well-to-do civilians caught up in the screaming patriotism of welcoming these young heroes is a strange image for me. Whilst I’ve no doubt that situations such as those portrayed in the book take place across the Atlantic,I struggle to transpose the images to Wembley Stadium, or any other venue in the UK, and swap the Class A Uniforms for sets of Number 2’s.
In spite of this, I engaged with the character of Billy, a 19-year-old soldier and recipient of the Silver Star, as he does his best to hold conversations with people who would look on the money he earns in a decade as mere pocket money. Billy is a tormented soul, grieving for the loss of one comrade and the wounding of another, suffering from a hangover and desperately besotted with a young cheerleader he’s known for all of five minutes, yet he stands with his comrades through a dull match, an embarrassing half-time show, and a couple of punch-ups for good measure.
The disparate personalities of the Bravos do no harm to the bond that they’ve formed through service together, something that will be instantly recognisable to any who have worn a uniform, and, although the author has never served, he portrays their bond well. When asked how he feels about returning to the war, Billy’s answer is clear; “It is what it is [...] we’ll all be together, that’s something. That counts for a lot actually.” Words which I’m sure more than a few members of this forum can appreciate.
The writing style flows well, from Billy’s inner monologue to the snatches of fervent conversation with Texan billionaires, and makes this book a real pleasure to read.
Is it Catch 22? In my opinion, no, but that doesn’t make this book any less enjoyable and nor does it mean that this satirical look at the home front is any less valid or necessary.
4 Mr Mushroom heads.