***Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is the second Iraq war novel I’ve read in the last few months. Entertaining though it often was, it never approached The Yellow Bird either for insight or impact. That said, Ben Fountain’s story of the exploitation of a group of soldiers for their actions in a heroic incident that happened to get taped by a Fox News embedded reporter is a gruesome example of how this (and other wars) get turned into theater and propaganda and money–though not for the soldiers.
The halftime walk takes place at a Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys football game. Bravo unit has been lionized across the country for their heroics, and the ceremony at this game is meant to be the apex of a victory tour. Then, the soldiers get an extended leave? Nope. They go right back to the front lines.
Billy is a 19 year old without much education who’s never been given to contemplation. At least not until he met his widely-read buddy “’Schroom,” who introduced him to the world of books and ideas, then got himself blown up. So Billy is grieving and thinking and reasoning (both in the real time of the game and in flashbacks) as well as keeping himself well-buzzed and on the lookout for sex from admiring females.
A subplot that eventually merges with the main plot near the end is the idea of a movie based on the incident in question. A producer travels with the group, and remains in constant cell phone communication with “People” trying to swing a deal. The deal centers for quite a while on the idea of Hillary Swank playing Billy—just to give you a notion of how distant from battleground reality is Hollywood’s concept of a saleable product. In fact, most of he ethos surrounding the event, where politics, money, and sports all fold in together, has to do with creating money-making packages. Another subplot is that Billy’s sister is trying to get him to go AWOL and has lined up a team of lawyers who promise him refuge and want to use him as a poster boy to protest the endless tours of duty Iraq soldiers must endure.
It’s a complex story powerfully told. At times it collapses of its own weight. We don’t need so many patriotic and capitalistic hymns from the Dallas owner, for example. However, by the end, I was left with my notions confirmed, not changed, and felt no new insight or impact of the theater of war and commerce and how it plays out on the political stage.
***This one of the books I read here and there on planes and trains while on a recent vacation in Ireland and the UK, so if the reviews seem a bit hurried and shallow, chalk it up to haste.