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text 2015-11-27 19:56
Can hardly wait for the movie now…...
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain

Initially, I didn't think the critics could possibly be right. I mean, come on, a 274 page book that takes place in 1 day during  a football game? How could THAT hold interest? The only reason I decided to give this book a chance is because one of my favorite film makers is, in fact, making a movie out of this book. 

 

Okay, let's go back a little.

 

I read a review that INSISTED this book was great. So I put it on my Nook Wishlist. I don't know how much time passed, but I saw the book was marked down to a mere $1.99, so heck, I sure couldn't go wrong with that price. So I downloaded it. But it remained unread for many months - until I learned that Ang Lee's next project would be based on this book. So I finally got myself to read it.

 

And I'm glad I did so. It IS a great book. Great prose, great writing, memorable characters. A really great read. I can only hope the movie will be anywhere as good. And I WILL be reading more Ben Fountain from now on. HIGHLY recommended.

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text 2015-11-02 04:21
Reading progress update: I've read 25 out of 281 pages.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain

Have decided this time for SURE to read the entire book from beginning to end. I decided to read the book first in anticipation of the Ang Lee adaptation of it only to find out that the movie is due to be released on November 16th……..2016. Ugggh. Over a year away yet. But I will read the book as though the movie is coming out in a week. hehehe

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review 2014-11-05 00:00
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain This book has a unique premise that to my knowledge and experience reading books does not have a comparable. An Army unit hailed for their courageous efforts in Iraq are getting the hero treatment as they make their way on the final leg of their cross-country tour. After embarking on a two week whirlwind of limousines, hotels, television, radio, and mall appearances it seems to becoming a bit cumbersome for these small town young men. Before they go back to Iraq they spend some time with family for Thanksgiving and mellow out before they have one last "hoorah" and a final "oh yeahhhhhh!!!" They spend their final hours at the home of America's Team and enjoy the modern day America's Pastime. The majority of the story takes place on this final day before the Army's Bravo Company redeployment to Iraq and showcases the wide-range of emotions that the lead protagonist Billy Lynn goes through on his final day as a celebrated G.I. Joe.

"It's the randomness that makes your head this way, living the Russian-roulette every minute of the day. Mortars falling out of the sky, random. Rockets, lob bombs, IEDs, all random... Inches. Not even that, fractions, atoms, and it was all this random, whether you stopped at the piss tube this minute or the next, or skipped seconds at chow, or were curled to the left in your bunk instead of the right, or where you lined up in column, that was a big one."


Specialist Billy Lynn is a nineteen-year-old young man from Stovall, Texas. After displaying some "brotherly" love towards his sister's fiancé in an unlawfully way, he finds himself resigned to the reality of a four-year contract in Iraq in place of a felony crime and a stint in the big house. Like his fellow Bravo members he doesn't come from the perfect of households. Meth labs, abuse, crack houses, drug addicts, gangs are at at the centre of the others, but for Billy, his dad is wheelchair bound after suffering a massive stroke and their family is drowning in medical bills. His father pays him no attention and treats the rest of his family horribly. Expecting a potential hell in Iraq, Billy is fortunate to have found a semblance of a family in his combat unit and together they all believe it has become a blessing in disguise.

The author raises many good talking points about America's fascination with consumerism, the misinterpretation of patriotism, living joyfully in a bubble with ever-present distractions, and the ongoing mind-control of media on political matters. The author puts the reader in the shoes of the veteran as he is inundated with the presence of complete strangers, their well-wishes and their own stories of war. Reading some of Billy's thoughts at times during contact points I was reminded of something I read in a psychological text that said; if you maintain eye contact for longer than six seconds you either want to have sexual intercourse with them or kill them. Although Billy is a sexually-frustrated young man I have a feeling that he would have envisioned the later as being more of a reality.

" For the past two weeks he's been feeling so superior and smart because of all the things he knows from the war, but forget it, they are the ones in charge, these saps, these innocents, their homeland dream is the dominant force. His reality is their reality's bitch; what they don't know is more powerful than all things he knows, and yet he's lived what he's lived and knows what he knows, which means what, something terrible and possibly fatal, he suspects. To learn what you have to learn at the war, to do what you have to do, does this make you the enemy of all that sent you to the war?
Their reality dominates, except for this: It can't save you. It won't stop any bombs or bullets. He wonders if there's a saturation point, a body count that will finally blow the homeland dream to smithereens."


The author also points out some cold hard truths as Billy suggests that since being back he has wondered how and when America became one giant mall with a country attached to it. And after realizing the medical bills that are going to render his family bankrupt he has reconciled the fact that as he fights to the death for other people's freedom he will have to pay for his family's. The most poignant, yet laughable moment for Billy was when his buddy Mango and him visited the Dallas Cowboys equipment room.

"They are among the best-cared-for creatures in the history of the planet, beneficiaries of the best nutrition, the latest technologies, the finest medical care, they live at the very pinnacle of American innovation and abundance, which inspires an extraordinary thought - send them to fight the war! Send them just as they are this moment well rested, suited up, psyched for brutal combat, send the entire NFL!"


Billy seems like a good natured dude and a good soldier, but as he admits he is constantly fucking up in a fucked up world. In order to subdue this behaviour Billy spends his time drinking alcohol to make the stories and well-wishes of complete strangers more bearable. Being the appointed hero of the Bravo team after an embedded Fox News reporter made him a YouTube sensation, he is finding it difficult to distinguish himself from the rest of the team and dealing with the responsibility that comes with it. To Billy he simply acted like an Army Specialist, he was doing his job and feels like he didn't do it well enough because his best friend and "brother" Spc. "Shroom" Breem died. Billy was the first to acknowledge what was occurring and the first to react. It was difficult for him to understand how after 3 minute and 43 seconds of high-intensity warfare at the Al-Ansaker Canal he could be honoured for the worst day of his life. In the end the battle was an experience, but it truly became everything to him and would take the duration of his life to figure out.

"He's been having many such existential spasms lately, random seizures of futility and pointlessness that make him wonder why it matters how he lives his life. Why not wild out, go off on a rape-and-pillage binge as opposed to abiding by the moral code? So far he's sticking to the code but he wonders if he does just because it's easier, requires less in the way of energy and balls. As if the bravest thing he ever did - bravest plus truest to himself - was the ecstatic destruction of pussy boy's Saab? As if his deed on the banks of the Al-Ansaker Canal was a digression from the main business of his life."


This is such an interesting story that it hurts for me to acknowledge that it didn't do much for me with respect to being enthralled or captivated. It took a while for the story to gain momentum and when it did it became a reoccurrance of recent events. A lot of handshakes, stories, drinking, sneaking off, corralling, and headaches with little diversity. The moments that stood out for me were when Dime was taking umbrage with Norm Oglesby's compensation plan for the Bravo team's movie, Destiny's Child having a Pink Floyd effect during the halftime show, and when Billy would get lost in his thoughts and go in a trance-like state when handshaking and kissing babies.

"Don't talk about shit you don't know, Billy thinks, and therein lies the dynamic of all such encounters, the Bravos speak from the high ground of experience. They are authentic. They are the Real. They have dealt much death and received much death and smelled it and held it and slipped through it in their boots, had it spattered on their clothes and tasted it in their mouths. That is their advantageous and given the masculine standard America has set for itself it is interesting how few actually qualify. Why we fight, yo, who is this we? Here in the chicken-hawk nation of blowhards and bluffers, Bravo always has the ace of bloods up its sleeve."

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-10-13 19:36
Chapter Review/Rant: Money Makes Us Real
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain

I'm on the last two chapters where Bravo have gone into negotiations on the film rights with some Hollywood shark (Norm Oglesby?). I've been confused as to who is who and what exactly they're doing there. I thought Albert was the Hollywood guy, but he's just some agent.

 

There was no actual work up to this meeting, and no talk between the soldiers about the details of the deal, besides a lot of jokes about Hillary Swank. Why not? Are young men incapable of serious thought? The stereotypes live on. It seems it just came out of nowhere. Looks as if Fountain didn't know how to end this or where the story (if you can call it that) was going in the first place.

 

The whole scene was pretty farcical and unbelievable. I thought it was bad, but this chapter pretty much solidified everything I said in my initial review. Who does the negotiating? Albert the experienced agent? No, of course not, it goes to Sargent Dime, an infantryman who fights terrorist. Even though the deal isn't done, Norm clearly establishes whose boss. Fountain makes victims of the soldiers, and everyone around them is there to use them and take advantage. This is a pretty lame metaphor for the war itself. I don't mind metaphors, but this was really badly done. Up until now, the main villains have been the Hollywood sharks and a couple of rich Texas businessmen. Fountain then gives us another layer of nonsense:

"It's pretty incredible," he says. "they've gotten your chain of command involved. Apparently Norm's good buddies with the deputy-deputy secretary of defense or some such crap, he had that guy call your superiors at Fort Hood. He says he talked to General Ruthven? And the general's supposed to call here in a couple of minutes, to talk to you." Albert shakes his head; his voice wavers. "I think they're going to make you do the deal." He looks at them. "Can they even do that?"

By the end of the chapter Sgt. Dime gets off the phone with the General, but what is said is never revealed. Just that the General is from some place where they hate the Dallas Cowboys. Nuff Said. It might as well never happened. In the last chapter, Fountain gives us no reaction to this news from any of the soldiers, with attention spans to rival a 4 year old with ADD, they are all too preoccupied by the swag bags they're given. There it is again, the soldiers are painted as naive dumb victims being done over by someone more powerful who knows someone more rich, whose loyal customers are dumb as fuck. Well done Fountain, repetitive to the fucking end. Blah blah blah.

 

 

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review 2014-10-11 22:43
Billy Lynns Long Half Time Walk Review
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain

These are the main impressions I got from the book:

 

1) Fountain seemed to be so overly preoccupied with trying to sound like a modern 19 year old male, that he forgot he was actually writing a book.

 

2) Fountains own voice and opinion is so heavily laid on, he practically drowned out the characters and the story itself. The book became a vehicle for a very tedious, repetitive rant.

 

3) Nobody understands soldiers; nobody can understand what they've gone through. Ever. So don't even go there. We are all so unworthy, everyone should be ashamed.

 

4) Everyone they meet is completely clueless about the war and has the sophistication of a 7 year old kid.

 

Its scathing portrait of the excesses of capitalism and the shallow materialism of modern American culture are all worthy, and I share many of his views. But his writing is so heavy handed and contrived, he ends up saying very little past the obvious and clichéd. I was searching for some humanity in it all, something that said something about all of us in the grand scheme of things. But he just wanted to point fingers at the usual villains: the rich, the powerful, the dumb and numb, without much perception, insight or wit.

 

The third person prose throughout the book was obviously Fountains own deeply cynical voice, but this never really made much sense against Billie’s feelings and thoughts which were much more wondering and ambiguous. This weird juxtaposition just confused things.

 

Fountain accuses modern society of being unthinking and shallow, but he treats the characters in his book with the same shallowness, concentrating on the superficial. The young soldiers are never given the space to develop as characters so they all kind of melded into one two dimensional blob. They are more than masters of the profane and the put-down, more than tanked up horn dogs. But we never really get to know them individually.

 

I get it, he was using stereotypes to make a point, but I thought that was the very thing Fountain was arguing against; against shallowness. It didn't work for me. His exquisitely formed prose put-downs reminded me of the cheap shots politicians throw at each other, using the same language to gain points. Even if the arguments made may actually be relevant and true, everyone is sullied by it, their arguments lessened and so are they.

 

The book began well enough but it gradually disintegrated into a meandering mess that lacked any kind of pace and clarity of thought. I'm just short of finishing this (hard slog!) but I give it a generous a half star and that's just for the interesting premise. I've minused the rest for the epically missed opportunity. It's not good enough to simply support a book just because you support the ideas it contains – now that would be shallow of me.

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