If You’re Only Going to Read One War Book…

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is the sort of book that makes another writer despair. How did Ben Fountain pull this off, that talented bastard? I’m practically sick with jealousy — and depressed that the book is over. Which is saying something considering the subject matter.

The books follows Billy Lynn and the fellow members of Bravo squad, back in the states on a “Victory Tour” after Fox News broadcast their battle with Al-Qaeda forces in Iraq. Billy Lynn and his fellow infantrymen or on the second-to-last day of the tour. After visiting family, a number of other swing-state cities and becoming minor pseudo-celebrities, they find themselves in Texas Stadium, slated to be part of the halftime show with Destiny’s Child during the annual Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving game. All this while a Hollywood producer is trying to get them a movie deal. And they’re being shipped back to Iraq in two days.

There’s obviously a lot of symbolic potential in all of this. And a lesser writer would likely have made a heavy-handed hash of it. THINK THIS! CONSIDER THIS! But Fountain just keeps us tightly within the realm of this 19-year-old soldier with an average past, struggling to make sense of the world he inhabits. That’s not to say Fountain doesn’t get his points across. Setting this inside the throne room of the Dallas Cowboys is a strikingly effective way to say a lot about American priorities. It allows something as simple as a tour of the equipment room to sneak up and smack the reader in the back of the head.

Yes, it’s anti-war, but not the sort of anti-war sentiment that’s based in politics. Rather, it’s based in the tradition of Vonnegut and Heller–it’s anti-war in the sense that sending young men to foreign lands to kill and be killed is a horrible thing.

No matter your politics, it’s a hell of a book.

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