Ben Fountain’s new book, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a deeply personal novel about one young man’s experience as a soldier in Iraq and his subsequent visit home in which he tries to make sense of his own life and country. The novel features Billy Lynn and his accompanying Bravo Squad soldiers as they attend a Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys game. The book covers this single day, with occasional flashbacks to Billy’s home life and his military life as a soldier in Iraq. Members of the Bravo Squad are being hailed as heroes after a harrowing firefight with Iraqi insurgents. They’ve been invited to the game, with a special halftime show in their honor, complete with a performance from Beyoncé. The entire story is told from inside Billy Lynn’s head. It is a deeply personal account that exposes the incredible disconnect between a soldier’s life in the Iraq war and life in the country he returns to. Fountain brilliantly captures elements of American culture that take on an absurd, grotesque quality when seen through this uniquely cross-cultural lens.
Fountain has written a book that is as much about family, grief, media, consumerism, sex and politics as it is about war. It has been hailed as “one of the most important books of the decade….as close to the Great American Novel as anyone is likely to come these days.” Just published in May of this year, it is quickly being considered one of the best novels written about the Iraq War. Billy Lynn is often compared to another classic war novel, Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. Both books depict the effect war has on individual soldiers and both are darkly humorous takes on modern American culture and military life.
Fountain successfully takes on huge targets: the Bush years, the NFL, the Iraq war and American consumerism. In lesser hands, a book of this nature would feel heavy-handed and one-sided. Luckily for us, Ben Fountain writes like a dream. He is one of those rare writers who can write with both immediate urgency and nuance. Like the best satirists, he is able to inspire dark humor, sympathy, heartbreak and anger, all in equal measure. In the end, Fountain’s real strength is Billy. Readers will cheer, laugh and weep for Billy Lynn, a nineteen-year-old soldier who has seen and done more than most of us could ever fathom.