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Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: A Novel
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: A Novel
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: A Novel
Ebook377 pages6 hours

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: A Novel

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars



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New York Times Bestseller
Now a Major Motion Picture

“Brilliantly done . . . grand, intimate, and joyous.”
—New York Times Book Review

“Mothers, father, sons, and daughters: read this giant-hearted novel.”
—MARIA SEMPLE, author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Three minutes and forty-three seconds of intensive warfare with Iraqi insurgents—caught on tape by an embedded Fox News crew—has transformed the eight surviving men of Bravo Squad into America’s most sought-after heroes. Now they’re on a media-intensive nationwide tour to reinvigorate public support for the war. On this rainy Thanksgiving Day, the Bravos are guests of a Dallas football team, slated to be part of the halftime show.

Among the Bravos is nineteen-year-old Specialist Billy Lynn. Surrounded by patriots sporting flag pins on their lapels and support our troops bumper stickers, he is thrust into the company of the team’s owner and his coterie of wealthy colleagues; a born-again cheerleader; a veteran Hollywood producer; and supersized players eager for a vicarious taste of war. Over the course of this day, Billy will drink and brawl, yearn for home and mourn those missing, face a heart-wrenching decision and discover pure love and a bitter wisdom far beyond his years.

Poignant, riotously funny, and exquisitely heartbreaking, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a searing and powerful novel that has cemented Ben Fountain’s reputation as one of the finest writers of his generation.

Editor's Note

Football and fireworks…

Packed with heroic soldiers, football, cheerleaders, PTSD-inducing fireworks, and of course, satire, this moving novel takes place during a Dallas Cowboys’ halftime show. For fans of “Catch-22,” “Slaughterhouse Five,” and American football.

Release dateMay 1, 2012
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Ben Fountain

Ben Fountain was born in Chapel Hill and grew up in the tobacco country of eastern North Carolina. A former practicing attorney, he is the author of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Barnes & Noble Discover Award for Fiction, and the novel Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, winner of the National Book Critics' Circle Award and a finalist for the National Book Award. Billy Lynn was adapted into a feature film directed by three-time Oscar winner Ang Lee, and his work has been translated into over twenty languages. His series of essays published in The Guardian on the 2016 U.S. presidential election was subsequently nominated by the editors of The Guardian for the Pulitzer Prize in Commentary. He lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife of 32 years, Sharon Fountain.

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Rating: 4.142857142857143 out of 5 stars

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  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Very entertaining. Great audiobook
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Witty and warm, if occasionally implausible, it's a cunning look at patriotism, consumerism and propaganda. And violence. And cheerleaders.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    The basics: Set on Thanksgiving Day 2004, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk takes place at the Dallas Cowboys annual Thanksgiving Day game. Billy Lynn, a nineteen-year-old member of Bravo Company, is our window into the bizarre festivities. Here, the young men of Bravo Company, famous for winning a filmed fight with insurgents, are on a "victory tour" before returning to Iraq. The Cowboys game, where they participate in the halftime festivities with Destiny's Child, is their final stop.My thoughts: The premise of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a fascinating one, and I admit I had rather high expectations going in, but at the end of the novel, I found myself saying, "that's it?" That isn't to say Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a bad book; it's a good book, but I wish it would have been a great book.One of the novel's weaknesses was having Billy Lynn narrate the entire novel. At times his observations were poignant and moving: "why, please, do they play the national anthem before games anyway? The Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Bears, these are two privately owned, for-profit corporations, these their contractual employees taking the field. As well play the national anthem at the top of every commercial, before every board meeting, with every deposit and withdrawal you make at the bank!" Who better to deliver that diatribe than a nineteen-year-old small-town Texas virgin back home for a whirlwind 'victory' tour after an intense time in Iraq. He knows he's on his way right back to Iraq too. He has the right perspective.The narration's weakness occurred in two ways, however. First, at times Fountain seemed to make Billy Lynn more omniscient and wise than he was in most parts. Second, the thoughts of a 19-year-old about the Iraq War in 2004 already seem dated. They're certainly not bad thoughts, but they're not terribly new. For me, this novel shined brightest when Fountain took over. I think this novel would felt more modern and held greater depth if Fountain opted for either a true omniscient narrator or told the story in multiple voices. Billy Lynn is a great window into that world, but I wish he weren't the only one in this novel.I'm generally a fan of slow, contemplative novels, but the action (or lack thereof) in this novel really dragged. The combination of the pace with Billy Lynn's intelligent but redundant observations hindered the momentum. The novel had the most momentum during the flashbacks, both to war and other events. The flashback of Billy Lynn's brief time with his family during the tour was the most moving of the novel. The contrast of how the soldiers speak to one another and how people expect them to act was interesting, but it soon grew redundant.At the center of what I wished were better in this novel was Billy Lynn as a character. At times he was a believable 19-year-old soldier, but at other times, I felt Fountain more than Billy. Or rather, I felt Fountain trying a bit too hard with Billy. These chips in credibility pulled me away from the narrative. For one particular storyline, Billy's romance with the cheerleader, it felt forced, unreal and fell emotionally flat to me.Despite these flaws, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk isn't a bad novel. I criticize it because in many ways it was so close to being a great novel. Fountain has a tremendous gift for language, but it wasn't enough to distract me from the novel's plot and character shortcomings.Favorite passage: "There was no such thing as perfection in this world, only moments of such extreme transparency that you forgot yourself, a holy mercy if there ever was one."The verdict: While I appreciate what Ben Fountain tries to do here, overall the novel felt one-note to me. It took more than 300 pages to cover a few hours, albeit with flashbacks, but the flashbacks were the most enlightening and interesting parts.The events at the Cowboys game soon become dull and feel unnecessarily drawn out. The writing and ideas are top notch, but there's not much new here. If you're one who has not contemplated the hypocrisy of war, capitalism, Hollywood and professional sports, this novel will likely read like a revelation. If, however, you're well-versed in the shortcomings and hypocrisies of the Iraq War, you may find yourself wishing for more.Rating: 4 out of 5
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    I admit to having a difficult time reading this book. The story didn't flow for me and because it was so choppy I struggled trying to stay with it. The message, however, is profound and well done. These young American soldiers are being hailed as heroes after a horrible skirmish in Iraq . The author addresses the issue of how we got there in the first place, who is fighting, who is fit to fight, the toll war takes and just about every other war theme one can think of. All of this is juxtaposed to a Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day football game in all its inanity. This book is worthy of all the awards.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    A solid read, although the Texan lowlifes who are the villains of the piece, are a bit too broadly drawn.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    I think it would fair for me to refer to this book as an achievement. I've been waiting for the last few years for a novel to capture the most recent Iraq War and the United States for all it's superficial patriotic bravado and Ben Fountain does exactly that.

    What amazes me the most is how Fountain captures the complicated, conflicting and confused inner thoughts of the Bravos in the face of the shallow praise that is heaped upon them over the course of the book. From what I can tell Fountain never served in the military so he must have had great people to advise him on that aspect of the book.

    There really is so much wrapped up in this book that due to general a lack of eloquence and coherent thought I can't even go into. So let me just say: READ THIS BOOK.

    This may be the best book released in 2012 (so far).
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    Recommend !!
    Whooaaaa . . let's stop and think about this one. To be a young person (especially male) in America with war and major league football to compare. Made me dizzy to think of all the absurdities so glaringly revealed in this brief snapshot of the Bravo Company's Heroic 2 week tour - - -being famous for the worst day / several minutes of your life. Then being "paraded" around the country as a way to "sell the war" to oblivious Americans, monied football fanatics, etc. Then being immediately sent back to the war zone. Wow!
    He has opportunity to make a different choice - how would you handle that choice?
    Billy Lynn is well portrayed - small town Texas boy - with his first encounters into many aspects of life - rather like a young person's first year away from home at college - except he's already had a best friend die in his arms. He's a person who will make a mark in life and one of the cheerleaders - omg, seems to have become immediately smitten with him . . . .
    Wonder what the next weeks will bring?
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    Having just read George Packer's The Unwinding, I found in this novel a prime example of how a well-told story can often provide a better critique of modern America than straight reportage. Great writing. Great book.
  • Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

    From the book jacket: A ferocious firefight with Iraqi insurgents – three minutes and forty-three seconds of intense warfare caught on tape by an embedded Fox News crew – has transformed the eight surviving men of Bravo squad into America’s most sought-after heroes. For the past two weeks the Bush administration has sent them on a media-intensive nationwide Victory Tour to reinvigorate public support for the war. Now, on a chilly and rainy Thanksgiving Day, they are guests of the Dallas Cowboys, slated to be part of the halftime show alongside Destiny’s Child.

    My reactions
    My stars, this took forever to take off. For the first 100 pages or so, I was completely bored and had no idea where this mess was going. I didn’t like how the men of Bravo squad were portrayed – hard drinking, foul-mouthed, crude. If this hadn’t been a selection for my F2F book club I would have given up after 50 pages.

    Once the squad gets into the private club room to meet the Cowboys’ owner and other high-powered, moneyed VIPs, the book begins to get interesting (pg 108). The last third of the book was very good. Billy Lynn is only 19 after all, from a small town, with limited education and no real exposure to the world at large. He takes his cue from the other members of Bravo Squad, particularly Staff Sergeant Dime, who is more a father to Billy than his own father is. In the space of several hours Billy is forced to examine his role in the war, in the media circus that is their victory tour, in his family. He begins to consider his options and what his future might look like.

    This is a satire, so many of the characters and situations are outlandish and exaggerated. This is also Fountain’s first full-length novel, though he won numerous awards for his short stories. I think his experience and skill at short story writing showed in this work. The work seemed choppy in places, lacking any sort of transition from chapter to chapter. Some of the scenes (Billy’s visit with his family, in particular) would make fine short stories all on their own.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    I was harsh to rate this only 3 stars when I finished it last night, but I was slightly annoyed by the last 100 pages or so. My inner voice was screaming "Oh get on with it" as we (yet again) go from the stands, to another room, for another long protracted discussion about a movie deal that's ultimately going nowhere.

    Billy Lynn is very much a 21st century hero- a wild, reckless and bored youth, forced by circumstance into the army and from there, into bloody conflict in Iraq. His story is told, mainly, on a cold Thanksgiving before, during and after the big game at Dallas Cowboys. There's booze, there's punch-ups, there's a hot cheerleader, but most of all there's a very well painted picture of attitudes towards not only soldiers, but the wars they are fighting. While these attitudes are portrayed as solely American, among the banner waving patriotism, as a UK reader, it also rings true of attitudes over here, so don't let the 'All-American' setting deter you from picking this up. Admittedly, if American football isn't you're thing (are you broken?) then you may zone out for small sections of the narrative.

    My only criticism of the novel is I would have like more flashback to the family, his sisters especially, as they fascinated me.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    A brilliant novel about war that takes place far from the field of battle at the annual Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day football game, the culmination of a “victory tour” for a squad of young grunts whose heroic actions in Iraq have made them a marketable commodity to drum up support for the war. Hilariously skewers the culture of instant celebrity, politics, patriotism and power, and poignantly conveys the senselessness of sending young men to war.
  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk has been on my kindle shelf since 2012 and I've finally read it. It is our April F2F bookclub read. It wasn't my kind of book. I think I can appreciate what the author was trying to do with the book but I don't think he quite got it done. It just didn't make the it. This is a story of soldiers who were fighting in Iraq home for a brief stay to tour the US for heroic action and culminates with a day at Texas Stadium to be the halftime show. There is talk of a movie about the heroic action of Bravo. Probably every Bravo man is having some sort of PTSD. Its a story of young man, Billy Lynn, who didn't join the service but was strongly encouraged by a judge to go to war rather than jail. Billy Lynn is young, 19, but a good soldier. He hasn't had a real girlfriend yet, he isn't of age to drink, but he is old enough to fight a war for the people of the US who care more about football and money. The book is an antiwar book, a political statement. The book may lend itself to discussion but I am expecting that few will actually get this book read. Also there was way to much swearing and using God's name profanely.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    It's almost horrible that the first two books I have read in 2016 have been as good as they were; it will seem like every book from here out will be a let down.

    Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a powerful book about a heroic squad of soldiers who come home to be honored and then they are invited to the spectacle of a Thanksgiving Cowboys game where the juxtaposition between that world, the one of the commercial, professional football business with all of its free-flowing money and materials, and the soldiers' world, where very little is free-flowing except Iraqi animosity and shrapnel, sears.

    Unflinching and very much worth reading.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    The more I read this book, the more I loved it. The length of the book is over one day of a Victory tour for a group of soldiers who are on leave from Iraq.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    It took me a while to get into this book, but I am glad I stuck with it. I'm not American, a football fan or someone who particularly likes books about soldiers and war. But this novel made me think, and I took several messages from it: to those who aren't soldiers and have no soldiers close to them, war is a "half-time show" they experience from time to time on TV; it is almost impossible for soldiers to talk about war to those who haven't experieced it; what does "supporting our troops" really mean....what kind of support do they want and need?; what is a hero?Mr. Fountain has done a great job of showing the bond among a squad of soldiers. He writes dialogue particularly well and is able to tell a story that is funny, shocking and disturbing all at the same time. I have a son slightly older than Billy Lynn and I came to understand and care about Billy through the skillful way Mr. Fountain drew him. Like other reviewers, I found the book unrelentingly cynical and in no way subtle. The same message was conveyed over and over again, perhaps once or twice too often. But on balance, add me to the list of fans.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    This was, to me, an almost unputdownable read. It is set in the Dallas Cowboy's Stadium over the course of a three hour game (with the odd flashback) and tracks the passage of a group of young soldier's victory parade, after a heavily publicised action in Iraq. The group lead by Sergeant "Dime " and featuring the 19 year old hero, Billy Lynn are sensitively portrayed but never glamourised by the author and in the end, I could feel nothing but pity for them as they faced the imminent return to front line action, albeit that that might be easier to face than the people they meet and interact with at the stadium. Billy Lynn is an unforgettable portrait of a boy, trained for nothing in his life, and forced into the army after extracting revenge for his sister's accident. Through him we ponder life, death, love and spirituality as he comes up against veritable monsters of the US system. A wonderful book.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    Contains at least one of the best chapters I've ever read.
  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    Fountain certainly understands how nineteen year old males think! I get that sometimes a lot of story elements may be compressed for impact but in the end this novel was a bot of a let-down because I could not suspend sufficient disbelief in the concatenation of events taking place in a period of several hours within a football stadium.
  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    A jingoist Texan comes up to a soldier on leave from Iraq, thanks him for his service and spouts a string of familiar lines about terrorism and the importance of the war. For his part, the soldier feels awkward about the praise, ambivalent about his involvement, and suspicious towards his thanker. If you would enjoy such an exchange, this book is for you--wherein it seems to be repeated about 400 times.

    I did enjoy the book's ending though, which I thought nicely encapsulated the country's true power structure (spoiler alert: it's money).
  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    This review should be called "Liam Sullivan's Long Summertime Read" because it took me months to complete reading. The slothfulness of the read should reflect more on the reader than the novel, and in fact the intricate level of detail in the book may be appreciated by a slow read. Fountain's novel tells the story of the Bravo Squad whose firefight in Iraq caught on video goes viral making the ten young men instant heroes brought back to the US to be celebrated and used for a promotional tour. The majority of the novel takes place on Thanksgiving Day at a Dallas Cowboys game where the Bravos are part of the pre-game and halftime festivities and is told from the perspective of the young Texan infantryman Billy Lynn. There's little nuance in Fountain's writing as this is clearly an anti-war novel with a pile-on of hypocritical people using the Bravos to advance their agenda. The incidents of the novel also grow increasingly absurd including Billy's fling with a cheerleader and the surreal halftime show where the Bravos support the performance of Destiny's Child. My ultimate summation of this book is good but not great, where the small details stand out better than the overarching themes of the novel.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    I enjoyed this one more than Yellow Birds. Although Yellow Birds did give me bad dreams, this one confirms all the cynical thoughts I have about the war on terror.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    Truly amazing book. Billy Lynn is a soldier. He is one of eight soldiers of "Bravo Squad," ordinary army grunts in Iraq who one day find themselves in a brief but fierce battle that happens to be captured by their embedded reporter on video. The film of their battle makes them instant "heroes," so the pentagon decides to pull them out of Iraq and send them on a two weel "Victory Tour" around the US to drum up support for the war. The final appearance of the Tour is a Dallas Cowboys football game on Thanksgiving day. The whole story takes place on this one day, with brief flashbacks to a few scenes in the previous weeks.Fountain packs so much emotion and thought into every scene that I was often exhausted from reading, but in a good way. He manages to get you to think, but without being preachy. He is ironic, but without the smugness that often marks modern American irony. It's emotional without being maudlin, political without being partisan or polemic.This story isn't for everyone, but those who read it will be glad they did.
  • Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
    The Bravo Squad is home from Iraq for a PR/victory tour after a brutal fight. They are invited to a Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving and are part of the halftime show, and they are in intense negotiations about a possible movie based on their experience. Billy Lynn, meanwhile, meets one of the cheerleaders and falls instantly in love. I know this book has received widespread critical acclaim, but it just didn't do it for me. It's one of those "poetic" books with a lot of fast-talking staccato paragraphs shot with dream-like metaphors that I would not expect to find inside a 19-year-old soldier's head. At one point Billy remembers his dead buddy telling him about good books and authors, and they were all ones I didn't care for: The Hobbit, On the Road, Hunter S. Thompson, Vonnegut, so I'm guessing the author and I just disagree on what's good. Also, the language of the book was overblown for the very obvious insights being presented. War is hell, and Americans are shallow and stupid for having supported our actions in Iraq. I get it.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    I somehow missed this book when it came out and only picked it up because it was #2 or #3 on the meta-lists of the best books of 2012. And it was excellent, although it would not rise to my personal #2.The book takes place over the course of a Dallas Cowboys football game on Thanksgiving Day--beginning with the limo trip to pre-game and ending with entering the limo to return after the game. The action in the book thus takes place over about as long as it takes to read the book itself.The protagonist is Billy Lynn, a genuine Silver Star-decorated war hero whose unit was captured on film by a Fox News crew, creating a viral sensation that led them to brought back to America on their victory tour. Appearing at the Dallas Cowboys halftime is the last stop on their tour and two days later they will be deployed back to Iraq.Over the course of their time they are followed around by a Hollywood producer who has optioned their story, surrounded by cheerleaders, get signed footballs from players, are paraded around by the billionaire owner, get into fights with fans, get into even worse fights with roadies, and try to meet Beyonce (the featured halftime performer). All of this is depicted in an outsized and satirical manner that is in turns flattering and oppressive to the men of what is inaccurately called Bravo squad.Although a war novel, you barely see the war--only the occasional description of the Fox News video, generally as perceived by someone meeting the soldiers, with the soldiers themselves having a very different recollection. In fact, it is more of an anti-war novel that has great respect for the troops but little-or-no respect for the prolific "honoring of the troops" by self-indulgent people, many of whom are only too happy to support someone else fighting a way.At times, especially in the first half, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk does, indeed, feel somewhat long. But it picks up with a touching love story with a cheerleader and when the Hollywood plot picks up as well.Overall, deserves a place on top 10 lists for 2012.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    I am at a loss for the words to describe this poignant, moving book and I don't believe I know how to write a worthy review...I just feel like it's shook me up, much the way a true account would. Brilliantly written and a must-read for all. Get ready to question the way you feel about the Iraq War. 
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    A great commentary on the way war is portrayed and perceived in America, and a sympathetic portrait of a veteran. The misadventures Billy Lynn experiences in Texas Stadium among the rabble and the wealthy are humorous without betraying the tragedy of the novel: the disconnect between the sensational picture civilians have been fed of a war in stark blacks and whites and what Billy actually goes through. Fountain's book can be pedantic, but his view of the incongruities in American culture are mostly on target.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    I was very lax about writing up my reviews toward the end of the year, so I haven't said much about Billy Lynn, but it was interesting on several levels. It takes place during the 2004 Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving game halftime show. I happened to be at that show and interesting fact #2, my-very-famous-brother produced the show. I kept waiting for his character to appear, but it didn't. (Which is probably a good thing.) On a deeper level it was about the lip service Americans pay to war and warriors while having no idea of what actually happens during war and to its soldiers. And on yet another level it is about how slimy some Texans can be. And, trust me, it's pretty darn slimy.
  • Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
    I wanted to enjoy Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. I really expected I would. And halfway through it, I thought I was enjoying it. But by the time I reached the third act, I realized that everything was so one-dimensional. I get that as a first-person, steam-of-consciousness narrative, some things are going to be unreliable and something things will be omitted. The problem is that too many really interesting and important things are set up, but never actually happen. Chief among those is the battle that made Billy and his squad into internet stars – it is never explained what happened or why it was different. Maybe Fountain’s point is that it doesn’t matter. But it does matter when that was the premise behind all of the events taking place. Perhaps Billy’s tale is so frustrating because Billy is so one-dimensional himself. The whole point of this sort of book is to live the journey from the eyes of somebody else as events happen that force them to change or evolve. The trouble is that Billy never does change. He simply floats along through a chain of events he seems powerless to alter and uninterested in trying to. And frankly, the ending was so devoid of any hope that it made The Road feel uplifting in comparison. Maybe Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a critique on how society handles war and its participants. Unfortunately, none of the people or events felt realistic. It was like living in a caricature of how people act that left everything feeling artificial. I can see why many people like it, but the story and the characters simply didn’t feel plausible enough for me to become emotionally attached.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    This book was SO GOOD, and didn't even think I would like it very much. A bunch of guys (the named-for-press-purposes "Bravo squad" come back from Iraq after a highly publicized (via Fox News) fire fight, and are trotted around on a "victory tour" that ends with a PR showcase at a Cowboys-Bears football game, after which they are being redeployed. At the onset, it's clear that the major theme of the book is the inability for Billy Lynn to communicate his war experience with anyone back in the States. Going into it, I was concerned about the ability of an author to write a book about not understanding something outside of shared experience if he didn't share in that experience ... that was getting a little meta and stressed me out.Oh, but then the writing sucked me in. It's so snappy and manages to be funny and troubling and sad all at the same time. Fountain also has a great ear for dialogue, I felt like he was extremely successful at capturing slangy and informal speech without making it sound forced or dorky.I felt like the last third got a little bogged down. The first parts went back and forth between the football game and the events leading up to Bravo's appearance at halftime, so when it catches up to itself, the change in the pace of the story struck me as a little off. Not really related to the book, but "Ben Fountain" sounds like the fakest fakey name ever to me. Can that really be someone's name? I feel like it's a pun that's going over my head.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    Book is brilliant. In fact it may be in my top 10 favorite books of all time. The book takes place in one day at Dallas Stadium on Thanksgiving Day. Billy and his troop members are being celebrated for a heroic action in Iraq that was captured by an in bedded camera man. Billy is a nineteen and a virgin who is slightly overwhelmed by all the hoopla. Through his eyes we see the insanity of our modern culture and war.

Book preview

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain



THE MEN OF BRAVO are not cold. It’s a chilly and windwhipped Thanksgiving Day with sleet and freezing rain forecast for late afternoon, but Bravo is nicely blazed on Jack and Cokes thanks to the epic crawl of game-day traffic and the limo’s minibar. Five drinks in forty minutes is probably pushing it, but Billy needs some refreshment after the hotel lobby, where overcaffeinated tag teams of grateful citizens trampolined right down the middle of his hangover. There was one man in particular who attached himself to Billy, a pale, spongy Twinkie of a human being crammed into starched blue jeans and fancy cowboy boots. Was never in the military myself, the man confided, swaying, gesturing with his giant Starbucks, but my granddaddy was at Pearl, he told me all the stories, and the man embarked on a rambling speech about war and God and country as Billy let go, let the words whirl and tumble around his brain

Thanks to asswipe luck Billy will have the aisle seat at Texas Stadium, which means he will bear the brunt of these encounters for most of the afternoon. His neck hurts. He slept but poorly last night. Each of those five Jack and Cokes puts him deeper in the hole, but the sight of the stretch limo pulling up to the hotel aroused a bundle of nervous cravings in him, this boat of a snow-white Hummer with six doors to a side and black-tinted windows for maximum privacy. "What I’m talking a-bout!" cried Sergeant Dime as he pounced on the bar, everyone whooping over all the pimp finery, but after destroying all hopes for a quick recovery Billy subsides into a gnarled, secret funk.

Billy, says Dime, you’re flaking on me.

No, Sergeant, Billy says at once. I’m just thinking about the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.

Good man. Dime raises his glass, then conversationally remarks to no one in particular, Major Mac is gay.

Holliday yelps. Damn, Dime, the man sitting right here!

And indeed, Major McLaurin is seated on the rear banquette, watching Dime with all the emotion of a flounder on ice.

He can’t hear a damn word I say, Dime laughs. He turns to Major Mac and slows down his rate of speech to moron speed. MAY-JURH, MACK-LAAAUUURIN, SIR! SAR-JINT, HOLLI-DAY, HERE, SAYS, YOU’RE, GAY.

Aw fuck, Holliday moans, but the major’s eyes merely take on a needling glint, then he holds out his fist to show his wedding band. Everyone howls.

There are ten of them in the limo’s plush passenger bay, the eight remaining soldiers of Bravo squad, their PA escort Major Mac, and the movie producer Albert Ratner, who at the moment is hunkered down in BlackBerry position. Counting poor dead Shroom and the grievously wounded Lake there are two Silver Stars and eight Bronze among them, all ten of which defy coherent explanation. What were you thinking during the battle? the pretty TV reporter in Tulsa asked, and Billy tried. God knows he tried, he never stops trying, but it keeps slipping and sliding, corkscrewing away, the thing of it, the it, the ineffable whatever.

I’m not sure, he answered. Mainly it was just this sort of road rage feeling. Everything was blowing up and they were shooting our guys and I just went for it, I really wasn’t thinking at all.

His chief fear up to the moment the shooting started being that of fucking up. Life in the Army is miserable that way. You fuck up, they scream at you, you fuck up some more and they scream some more, but overlying all the small, petty, stupid, basically foreordained fuckups looms the ever-present prospect of the life-fucking fuckup, a fuckup so profound and all-encompassing as to crush all hope of redemption. A couple of days after the battle he was walking down the gravel path to chow and there it was, this sense of reprieve or release, of a terrible burden eased, and all with no more effort on Billy’s part than the exhalation of a normal breath. This feeling of ahhhhh, like there was hope for him? Like maybe he wasn’t completely expendable. By then the Fox News footage was viraling through the culture and there were rumors that Bravo was going home, the kind of suicidally hopeful talk no soldier in his right mind would dare credit, and then, lo, they were QT’ed to Baghdad on two hours’ notice and thence across the ocean for their Victory Tour.

One nation, two weeks, eight American heroes, though technically there is no such thing as Bravo squad. They are Bravo Company, second platoon, first squad, said squad being comprised of teams alpha and bravo, but the Fox embed christened them Bravo squad and thus they were presented to the world. Now, here at the tour’s end, feeling soft, sated, bleary, under-rested and overproduced, Billy grows sad and nostalgic for the beginning. They were hustled onto a C-130 in the middle of night and took off from Baghdad in a hard spiraling scrooge. Shroom was with them, in a flag-draped coffin at the back. For the entire flight to Ramstein a couple of the Bravos were always sitting with him, but it’s the others who Billy thinks of now, the twenty or so civilians of various shades and accents who joined them for the ride. Not spooks—they were too plump for that, their smiles too heedless of the woes of the world, and as soon as the plane was airborne those guys were partying hard. Good whiskey, music blasting from a dozen boom boxes, a forest of Cuban cigars set ablaze—the fuselage quickly filled with a witches’ brew of smoke. It turned out that they were gourmet chefs. For who? The men just smiled. The coalition. They were French, Romanian, Swedish, German, Iranian, Greek, Spanish, Billy could discern no pattern or meaning in their nationalities, but to a man they were friendly and more than generous, eager to share their booze and smokes with soldiers. Evidently they’d made a lot of money in Iraq. One of the Swedes opened his calfskin attaché case and showed Billy the gold stash he’d acquired in Baghdad, several pounds’ worth of chains and ropes and coins, of such purity that they glowed more orange than gold. There amid the cigar smoke and rollicking laughs Billy had lifted one of the chains, testing it for heft. He was nineteen years old and had no idea that his war contained such things, and what a damn shame for him and the rest of Bravo that it has not been won in the two weeks since.

Yes, Albert is saying into his cell, which he bought special in Japan, which is two years ahead of everyone else in the race for cell phone superiority. Tell her that, you can tell her this picture will maul. But it will also reward. He’s silent for a moment. Carl, what can I say? It’s a war picture—not everybody gets out alive. Meanwhile Crack is reading aloud from the sports pages of the Dallas Morning News, reciting the odds from America’s Line so Holliday and A-bort can get their bets down. There are more than two hundred ways to bet on the game, including whether the coin toss will be heads or tails, which song Destiny’s Child will open with at halftime, and which quarter will the network broadcast make its first reference to President Bush.

Crack speaks as if reading from a recipe. Drew Henson’s first pass of the game will be, complete, minus two hundred; incomplete, plus a hundred and fifty; an interception, plus a thousand.

Incomplete, says Holliday, making a note in his little book.

Incomplete, A-bort agrees, marking his little book.

How about quarter where Beyoncé sits on my face, Sykes says.

Fucking never, Holliday says, not missing a beat.

In a million years, A-bort adds, similarly deadpan. Sykes is saying hell yes he’ll take those odds as Albert snaps his cell phone shut.

All right, guys, it looks like Hilary Swank is officially interested.

Whanh, whoa, who? "Hilary Swank a bitch, Lodis sputters. Why she talking to us?"

"Bee-cause, Albert answers, punching it, knowing the rise this will get from Bravo, she wants to play him," and he points at Billy. Bravo erupts in hoots and cheers.

Wait. Wait a second. Billy is laughing along with everyone else, but he’s troubled too, already he senses the potential here for humiliation on a global scale. If she’s a girl then I don’t see how—

Actually, Albert says, "she’s floating the idea of playing Billy and Dime. We’d fold both parts into one role and she’d play that as the lead."

More hoots, this time directed at Dime, who merely nods as if well satisfied. I still don’t see . . . Billy murmurs.

Just because she’s a woman doesn’t mean she can’t do it, Albert tells them. Meg Ryan was the lead in that chopper flick, the one she did with Denzel a couple years ago. Or she could play it as a guy, hell, Hilary won a goddamn Oscar playing a guy. Well, playing a girl playing a guy, but whatever. The point is she’s not just another pretty face.

Others who Albert is in talks with: Oliver Stone, Brian Grazer, Mark Wahlberg, George Clooney. It is a heroic tale, not without tragedy. A tale of heroism ennobled by tragedy. Movies about Iraq have underperformed at the box office, and that’s a problem, according to Albert, but not Bravo’s problem. The war might be up to its ass in moral ambiguity, but Bravo’s triumph busts through all that. The Bravo story is a rescue story, with all the potent psychology of the rescue plot. People respond deeply to such stories, Albert has told them. Everyone worries, everyone feels at least a little bit doomed basically all the time, even the richest, most successful, most secure among us live in perpetually anxious states of barely hanging on. Desperation’s just part of being human, so when relief comes in whatever form, as knights in shining armor, say, or digitized eagles swooping down on the flaming slopes of Mordor, or the U.S. cavalry charging out of yonder blue, that’s a powerful trigger in the human psyche. Validation, redemption, life snatched from the jaws of death, all very powerful stuff. Powerful. What you guys did out there, Albert has assured them, that’s the happiest possible result of the human condition. It gives us hope, we’re allowed to feel hopeful about our lives. There’s not a person on the planet who wouldn’t pay to see that movie.

Albert is in his late fifties, a big-boned, fleshy man with an unruly cloud of mostly gray hair and thick, wiry hedgerows of midlength sideburns. He wears black-frame glasses with round lenses. He chews gum. His hands are large and knuckly, and dark clumps of jungle growth sprout from his ears. Today he’s wearing a white dress shirt with the collar open, a navy blazer with a lining of brilliant scarlet, a black cashmere overcoat and cashmere scarf, and sleek, dainty loafers that appear to be made of pliable chocolate bars. This crossfire of dishevelment and suavity provides no end of fascination for Billy, and from it he infers a worldliness that could eat Bravo for breakfast and swallow the bones. This is a man who direct-dials the likes of Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones and whose movies have featured such money stars as Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, two of the four Baldwin brothers and so on, all of whom unfortunately have prior commitments or aren’t interested in a profile-leveling ensemble piece.

"We’re gonna Platoon it, Albert says on his next phone call. Ensemble plus star, hell yes it works. Hilary’s extremely interested."

The Bravos listen for a minute. Ho’Wood talk. It is its own tribal dialect, rich in tonal permutations of put-down, bitch-slap, call-out, and gaff.

No way. I’d rather sleep with Mother Teresa than make a movie with that guy.

Bravo smirks.

Oh sure. Like having an enema when you’ve got a catheter shoved up your cock.

The Bravos’ eyes bug out, they chortle snot through their noses.

"Only one battle? Larry, come on, Black Hawk Down was only one battle. Look, I know it’s a war movie, but I need a director who can bring some human empathy to the story."


Enemas I can handle, it’s the catheter I can’t take.

More nasal chortles. Lodis would fall off his seat if he wasn’t strapped in.

Listen, Larry, we’re talking two days. My boys ship out in two days and access becomes extremely problematic after that. Unless your lawyers feel like parachuting into a war zone.

Hooo-kay, Crack resumes, rattling the paper. Will Drew Henson throw an interception—yes, minus a hundred and twenty, versus no, plus a hundred and five.

Yes, Holliday says.

No, says A-bort.

Will Beyoncé show me her tits while sitting on my face, Sykes offers, then starts singing in a screechy black-girl falsetto, I need a soldjah, soldjah, need me a soldjah soldjah boy . . .

Quiet, Dime woofs, Albert’s on the phone, which the rest of the Bravos take as their cue to scream at Sykes. Shut up, fuckhead, Albert’s on the phone! Quiet, shitbag, Albert’s trying to talk! Meanwhile an SUV has drawn even in the next lane, and women, actual females, are hanging out the windows and yelling at the Hummer, college girls, maybe a couple of years older, and they are fine prime examples of that buxom talent pool of all-American booty that runs amok every night on reality TV.

Hey, they cry as traffic crawls along, roll down your windows! Hey you, whoever you are, got any Grey Poupon? Woooo-hoooo, go Cowboys! Roll down your window!

Oh Lord, beauties they are and amped as all fuck, bellowing, whipping their hair around like proud war banners, they are the girls gone wild of Bravo’s fondest dreams. Sykes and A-bort futz with the windows on that side and are roundly cursed for their incompetence, then they realize the damn things have been childproofed and everybody screams toward the front, finally the driver flips a switch and the windows go down and you can just see those girls deflate. Oh, soldiers. Jarheads, they’re probably thinking, because it’s all the same to them. Not rock stars, not highly paid professional athletes, nobody from the movies or the tabloid-worthy world, just grunts riding on some millionaire’s dime, some lame support-the-troops charity case. Bravo tries, but the girls are just being polite now. We’re famous! A-bort cries. They’re gonna make a movie about us! The girls smile, nod, look up and down the freeway as if scouting better prospects. Sykes flops his entire torso out the window and yells, Hell yes I’m drunk baby and I’m married too! But I’ll still love you ugly in the morning! This gets the girls laughing and for a moment there’s hope, but Billy can see the light already dimming in their eyes.

He sits back and pulls out his cell; they were probably never serious anyway. Ten hut! reads the text from his sister Kathryn,

keep it in yr holster kid

Then from Pete, his other sister’s roughneck husband,

Bang a cheerldr

Then this from Pastor Rick, who won’t leave him alone,

He who honors me, I will honor

And that’s it, no more texts, no calls, nothing. Fuck, doesn’t he know anybody? He is sort of famous after all, at least that’s what people keep telling him, so you would think. Traffic is moving and they’ve lost the wild girls, but now the stadium appears on the horizon, rising from the sweep of suburban prairie like an engorged and wart-spattered three-quarter moon. They are supposed to appear today on national TV, details pending, no one knows the actual drill. They might have lines to speak. They might be interviewed. There’s talk that they’ll take part in the halftime show, which raises hopes of personally meeting Destiny’s Child, but equally if not more plausible is the possibility that they’ll be coaxed, cajoled, steamrolled, or otherwise harassed into doing something incredibly embarrassing and lame. Local TV has already been bad enough—in Omaha there was footage of a very stiff Bravo interacting with the zoo’s new monkey habitat, and in Phoenix they were taken to a skateboard park, where Mango did an ass-plant for the evening news. Humiliation always stalks the common man when he ventures onto the tube, and Billy is determined it won’t happen to him, not today, not on nationwide TV, no sir, thank you sir, I respectfully refuse to act like a moron, sir!

The possibilities set off a whinge in his gut like air escaping through a pinhole wound. He wants to be on TV, and he doesn’t. He wants to be on TV as long as he doesn’t screw up and it might help get him laid, but watching the stadium swell outside his window to Death Star proportions he wonders if he’s truly up to the day. Self-confidence has been a struggle these past two weeks, this sense of treading water way over his head. He’s too young. He doesn’t know enough. Not counting the small-time drag races his father used to emcee, he’s never been to a professional sporting event. In fact he’s managed to grow up in Stovall, a mere eighty miles west, without ever setting eyes on fabled Texas Stadium save through the expurgating medium of TV, and this first sighting feels historic, or at least strives to be. Billy studies it at length, with real care and attention, taking the measure of its size and lack of humor, its stark and irremediable ugliness. Years and years of carefully posed TV shots have imbued the place with intimations of mystery and romance, dollops of state and national pride, hints of pharaonic afterlife such as always inhere in large-scale public architecture, all of which render the stadium of Billy’s mind as the conduit or portal, a direct tap-in, to a ready-made species of mass transcendence, and so the real-life shabbiness is a nasty comedown. Give bigness all its due, sure, but the place looks like a half-assed backyard job. The roof is a homely quilting of mismatched tiles. There’s a slumpiness, a middle-aged sag to the thing that suggests soft paunches and mushy prostates, gravity-slugged masses of beached whaleness. Billy tries to imagine how it looked brand-new, its fresh gleam and promise back in the day—thirty years ago? Forty? The past is always a shaky proposition for him, but there’s a backdoor link between the way he feels now, looking at the stadium, and the feelings he gets when he thinks about his family. That same heaviness, the same torpor and melancholy, a kind of sickly-sweet emo funk that’s almost pleasurable, in the sense that it hints at something real. As if sorrow is the true reality? Without ever exactly putting his mind to it, he’s come to believe that loss is the standard trajectory. Something new appears in the world—a baby, say, or a car or a house, or an individual shows some special talent—with luck and huge expenditures of soul and effort you might keep the project stoked for a while, but eventually, ultimately, it’s going down. This is a truth so brutally self-evident that he can’t fathom why it’s not more widely perceived, hence his contempt for the usual public shock and outrage when a particular situation goes to hell. The war is fucked? Well, duh. Nine-eleven? Slow train coming. They hate our freedoms? Yo, they hate our actual guts! Billy suspects his fellow Americans secretly know better, but something in the land is stuck on teenage drama, on extravagant theatrics of ravaged innocence and soothing mud wallows of self-justifying pity.

Shit, someone murmurs, a speed bump in the silence—their first burst of enthusiasm on sighting the stadium has flatlined into verbal arrest. Maybe it’s the weather that brings them down, all this early-winter gloom, or maybe performance anxiety or just plain weariness, the burden of knowing much will be required of them today. Bravo doesn’t do so well with silence anyway. Guff and bullshit are more their working style, but the spell of introspective dread concludes with the appearance of a large, carefully rendered homemade sign affixed to a roadside utility pole. STOP ANAL RAPE IN IRAQ! the sign reads, below which someone has scrawled, heavens to betsey. Bravo howls.



THEY ARRIVE TWO HOURS before kickoff and no one seems to know what to do with them, so they’re parked in their seats for the time being, forty-yard line, home side, seventh row. Sykes and Lodis immediately start debating the retail value of such totally sick seats and how much they would bring on eBay, $400, $600, up and up they go, their analysis based on nothing more than air and wishful thinking. It’s a fuckwit conversation and Billy tries not to listen. He’s got the aisle seat with Mango on his left, and they talk a little bit about last night and how awesome it is to be here instead of spitting sand out their ears at FOB Viper. Hebert known as A-bort is sitting to Mango’s left, then Holliday known as Day, then Lodis a.k.a. Cum Load, Pant Load, or just plain Load, then Sykes who will never be anything other than Sucks, then Koch as in coke which makes him Crack and Crack kills!, especially when he squats and shows a slice of his ass, then Sergeant Dime, then Albert’s empty seat, then that infinite enigma known as Major Mac. Everyone says it’s cold, but Billy doesn’t feel it. The forecast calls for sleet and freezing rain by late afternoon, and through the stadium’s open dome they can watch the weather going to hell, the cloud deck bristling like a giant Brillo pad. The half-empty stands—it’s early yet—give off the low hum of a floor buffer or oscillating fan.

Load! barks Sergeant Dime. How long is a football field?

Lodis snorts; too easy. At least ten times a day he has to prove that certitude is the hallmark of the true moron.

A hunrud yards, Sergeant.

Wrong, dumbshit. Billy, how long is a football field?

A hundred twenty yards, Billy answers, trying to keep it low-key, but Dime leads the rest of Bravo in whooping applause.

Hooah, Billy, get some. He’s leery of this roll Dime’s on for singling him out for favors and praise and doing it in so frontal a manner, as if daring the other Bravos to call him on it. It’s like a punishment, whose Billy hasn’t figured out, but instructional aggression is a specialty of Dime’s. NO he’s bellowing now at Sykes, who’s begging permission to place a couple of small bets. Ever since he maxed out his credit cards on porn, Dime has had him on a vicious budget.

Sergeant, just fifty bucks.


I’ve been saving up—


I’ll send every penny to my wife—

Damn right you will, but you aren’t betting.

Please, Sergeant—

Sucks, have you not had your morning glass of shut up? With that Dime is stepping over the seat below and sidling down the vacant row at Bravo’s front. Gentlemen, what it do? he says on reaching the end of the row.

Just chillin’, says Mango.

You get any chiller, we’re gonna put you on a stick and sell mango Blow Pops. Lodis still says the football field’s a hundred yards long.

Is! Lodis calls from down the row. Since when anybody count the end zone, yo.

Sergeant, Sykes wails, just please this once—

Shut! Dime barks, the stalk of his neck twisting around as if he means to pop his head off by self-induced torque, then his eyes alight on Billy and there it is, The Look, the fixed fire of Dime’s gaze bearing down on Billy’s humble self. 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.



Your thoughts on the Hilary Swank deal.

I don’t know, Sergeant. It seems sort of weird, having a girl play a guy.

But Billy, haven’t you heard, weird is the new normal. Dime is buzzing with game-day energy, arms swinging, hips juking little half-feints and slants. But maybe she’d play it as a girl, you heard Albert. They’d turn you into a chick, how about that? So for the rest of your life people’ll be like, ‘Look, there goes ol’ Billy Lynn. He let them turn him into a girl for that movie they made.’

She wants to play you too, Sergeant. Would you do it?

Dime gives a lippy sort of laugh. I tell you what, maybe. If she’d let me be her boyfriend for a couple of weeks, I could be persuaded.

Now he laughs for real, cackling with the wicked innocence of the bright and easily bored. Staff Sergeant David Dime is a twenty-four-year-old college dropout from North Carolina who subscribes to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Maxim, Wired, Harper’s, Fortune, and DicE Magazine, all of which he reads in addition to three or four books a week, mostly used textbooks on history and politics that his insanely hot sister sends from Chapel Hill. There are stories that he went to college on a golf scholarship, which he denies. That he was a star quarterback in high school, which he claims not to remember, though one day a football surfaced at FOB Viper, and Dime, caught up in the moment, perhaps, nostalgia triggering some long-dormant muscle memory, uncorked a sixty-yard spiral that sailed over Day’s head into the base motor pool. He has a Purple Heart and Bronze Star from Afghanistan, and among the other company sergeants his tag is Fuckin’ Liberal, but what was extraordinary about Bravo, the miracle that only gradually became apparent to Billy, was the presence in the squad of not one but two demonstrably superb warriors, neither of whom had any use for the prevailing orthodoxies. When Vice President Cheney made his morale-boosting stop at FOB Viper, Dime and Shroom had cheered with such sick abandon that even Captain Tripp registered the savage mockery of it. Woooo-woooh, yeanh, Dick! Give ’em hell! Bring it awn! Woooo-woooh, let’s kick some raghead ass! The entire platoon snickering and giggling, about to piss their pants, finally the captain passed a note to Dime saying to "tone it the fuck down now," though Cheney seemed well pleased with his reception. Standing there onstage in his L.L.Bean khakis, hands in his pockets, NASA windbreaker zipped to his neck, he complimented Viper on its fighting spirit and offered up encouraging news about the war. There is no doubt, he said. The latest intelligence, he said. Our commanders in the field, he said, all in that modulated dial-tone Cheney voice that made everything sound so fucking reasonable. So what was it he said? Oh, right. The insurgency was on its last legs, he said.

Albert! Dime calls out. Billy thinks Hilary Swank is weird.

Wait. No. Billy turns, and there’s Albert coming down the steps, smiling with a bemused sort of West Coast cool. I just said I thought it’s weird she’d wanna play a guy.

Hilary’s all right, Albert says mildly. In fact she’s one of the nicest ladies in Hollywood. But if you think about it, Billy—the young soldier is always shocked when Albert calls him by name; Dude, he wants to say, not necessary, you don’t have to remember my actual name—that’s the supreme challenge for any actor, playing the opposite sex. I can see why she’d be interested.

He doesn’t want a chick playing him, Dime says. He’s scared people are going to think he’s a pussy.

Albert, don’t listen to anything he says.

Albert chuckles, and for a second Billy thinks of Santa Claus, another jolly man of girth. Stay loose, guys. We’ve got a long way to go before you have to worry about that.

Albert’s target is a hundred thousand down for each Bravo’s life story, plus all manner of arcane fees, points, percentages, and other unintelligible stuff they will just have to trust him on. For the past two weeks he’s been jumping in and out of the Victory Tour, meeting up with Bravo in DC, then jetting out, another meeting in Denver, then jetting out, Phoenix and out, and now here at the tour’s end, Dallas. Two weeks ago he said they’d have a deal by Thanksgiving, and while it looks like everything’s under control Billy senses an inchoate diminishing of heat, a barely perceptible

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