Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Ben Fountain (author of the story collection Brief Encounters with Che Guevara) has written a truly wondrous first novel in Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. On the face of it, this is the story of Bravo Squad, eight brave survivors of a horrendous firefight with Iraqi insurgents who are being celebrated at Texas Stadium on Thanksgiving Day. They are feted, made part of the halftime show and projected on the Jumbotron--then dropped when their marginal utility has been served.

One subplot covers an agent's attempts to get Bravo a movie contract--$100,000 for each of them. It's an unimaginable amount of money for these kids to imagine. Another set piece is Bravo's visit to the owner's box--a glimpse of Valhalla for young men who have known nothing but privation, fear, mud and field rations for months. The panoply of riches on display, with huge tables of food and booze and incessant bonhomie and jingoistic blather, are all heady stuff for 19-year-old Billy Lynn and his comrades.

Billy is the centerpiece of the novel. The steady thrum that beats through every page is his realization that he will be back in Iraq in 36 hours. We see everything through the lens of his experience, at the center of which is the loss of his good friend, Shroom, in the firefight.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a sad story about what war does to us, all of us. If it doesn't bring you to your knees, read it again. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

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