Tuesday, June 26, 2012

{read: war fiction} Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

This is a war story, which is fitting with the Fourth of July holiday coming up. What price will we pay for freedom? Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk tells the story of a 19-year-old Iraq war hero (Billy Lynn) and his squad. After an embedded Fox News TV crew catches a firefight on tape and Bravo Squad becomes an American hit on TV and YouTube, its surviving members are flown home for a Victory Tour. Concluding with tickets to the Cowboys football game on Thanksgiving Day, this tour whisks the war veterans through America, coincidentally (or not) taking them through the swing states during an election year. What's not mentioned to the adoring public is that after this two-week tour ends, the heroes have to go back to Iraq for another 11 months.

This is an introspective, somber novel told through the eyes of Billy Lynn. I cringed but also nodded in recognition at the descriptions of some of the tactless and insensitive people Bravo Squad met.

Billy struggles to reconcile what he's seen and done with the lives that these "ordinary" Americans are living, finally asking, "To learn what you have to learn at the war, to do what you have to do, does this make you the enemy of all that sent you to the war?"

There are several other insightful, sometimes funny, observations like this that caught me, including a comparison to the WWII Greatest Generation fighters, saying (paraphrasing) that today's generation of warriors is at least the top of the bottom third.

This is not quick or easy reading, but I'd recommend it if you're interested in exploring modern-day war and its costs from the teenage soldier's POV.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (Ecco, 2012)
My rating: 4 stars

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