Monday, April 14, 2014

"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" by Ben Fountain

I resisted reading Billy Lynn for a long time because I just couldn't see myself interested in a "war" book, despite the many accolades Fountain's novel was achieving. Of course, Billy Lynn's a "war book" in the same way that Slaughterhouse-Five and Catch-22 are (though without the absurdism and dark humor). Instead, like its predecessors, it works to expose the fractured and paradoxical mindset of a person who has experienced war, with Fountain's novel also covering the similar mindset of those back home who passionately "defend our troops."

The book's protagonist is Billy Lynn, a young solider home for brief leave with other members of his Bravo squad after video of one of their fights in Iraq makes them famous heroes. Billy and his fellow squad members are lauded and praised wherever they go, but at the same time they have to live the reality that they're returning to Iraq in days to finish their tour.

Most of the novel is Billy's inner monologue as he struggles presenting the facade the American public expects while being bombarded by the basic insincerity of those gushing around him. And it isn't that his "fans" are purposefully insincere, but rather that they're ultimately ignorant, with a simplistic view of what it means for our country to be at war.

Billy Lynn highlights many other truths of war: the incredible youth of many of our soldiers; the camaraderie formed in such circumstances; the fact that parades and award ceremonies aren't always the best way to support the troops.

Highly recommended even if, like me, this type of story normally isn't your "thing."

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