“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” by Ben Fountain was the Wall Street Journal Book Club Book a few months ago. It took me awhile to get through it, and even longer to figure out how I felt about it. On the one hand, the book was written in an odd fashion that I found to be a little challenging to get through. On the other hand, I liked quite a bit of the book and it was a book that was outside my comfort zone.
“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is about a group of soldiers on leave. They are being considered for a movie after their heroics abroad and the book takes place at a Dallas Cowboys game. Reading about these soldiers trying to cope with life off the battlefield was thought provoking. “This has happened a lot lately and it’s freaking Billy out, the concentrated calm of Dime’s gray eyes with that sense of mad energy swirling at the edges, like finding yourself at the center of a hurricane.” (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, pg 14). Billy Lynn focuses quite a bit on how upside down the world seems now that they are back home. “Your mind is not calm. You aren’t sick but you aren’t exactly well. There’s an airy sense of dangling or dangerous incompletion, as if your life has gotten ahead of itself and you need some time to let it back and fill. This feels right, this grasping of the time problem…” (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, pg 43). I think that Ben Fountain does an impressive job at expressing how these soldiers feel amid the chaos of day-to-day in America.
The way that the book was written was very confusing and random. I think it gave a fairly accurate glimpse into the mind of Billy Lynn. He’s just a kid really, barely old enough to have joined the army. But he did join up and he was shipped off to fight and his company was in a bad spot. Their story is so courageous to the public that some want to turn it into a movie. They are considered heroes for what they did and all Billy can think about is how detached he feels from the world. “The war is out there somewhere but Billy can’t feel it, like his sole experience with morphine when he could not feel pain. At one point he even tried as an experiment, stared at his cut-up arms and legs thinking hurt, but the notion simply gassed into thin air. That’s how the war feels now, it is at most a presence or pressure on his mind, awareness without content, an experiential doughnut hole.” (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, pg 71).
Billy Lynn’s thoughts on the war are very interesting. At one point he is getting tired of hearing so much praise from everyone at the game. “He wishes that just once somebody would call him baby-killer, but this doesn’t seem to occur to them, that babies have been killed. Instead they talk about democracy, development, dubya em dees. They want so badly to believe, he’ll give them that much, they are as fervent as children insisting Santa Clause is real because once you stop believing, well, what then, maybe he doesn’t come anymore?” (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, pg 219). It’s interesting. The average American’s instinct is to thank soldiers for the service they have provided to their country. But here is Billy, thinking how much he would rather be called out on the horrible aspect of what it is to be a soldier. How it isn’t about saving lives, but taking them. No matter which side you support, it is horrible having to live with that each day. Knowing that you are breaking apart families in the name of your country. It’s clear that Billy is proud and at the same time shameful for what he has been doing. It leads to an interesting insight into the world of soldiers. “There’s too many people running around, too much bug-eyed panic, all the freak-out flavors of an ambush situation without any of the compensating murderous release.” (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, pg 237).
Would I recommend this book? To some, yes. What I really liked about “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is how challenging it was for me. I do not read a lot of novels formatted this way and it made for an interesting read. I also thought that the topic itself was outside of my comfort zone. I would never have picked up this book on my own. That being said, it is not by any means a light read. It is short, but it took quite awhile for me to get through it. I think that some people would enjoy reading it, but I would not recommend it for everyone.