I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Monday, August 22, 2016

Billy's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

In this NY Times best seller and National Book Award finalist, SPC William "Billy" Lynn is on a two week tour of America with seven other guys who have been deemed heroes of the Al-Ansakar Canal battle in Iraq in Oct of what I will say 2005*. The end of the tour will be a Thanksgiving Day spent at Texas stadium where Destiny's Child is doing the halftime show.  Most of the book takes place there with Billy trying to figure some things out in his head, with a small bit taking place two days before at his parent's place.

"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."  Who are they? "Herbert known as A-bort...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", there's also the one who barely made it, SPC Lake who is in the hospital with his legs blown off and Sergent "Shroom" Breem, who didn't make it, for whom Billy is having the hardest time dealing with his death, probably because he was a mentor and he was holding him when he died and as he says felt his soul pass on to somewhere.  At Shroom's funeral is the only time they seem to encounter people who seem to hate them. Those evil people with their signs that hold biblical verses and words like "baby killer".   Everyone else seems happy to know that something right is going on over there and that we're killing actual terrorists.

The soldiers have taken on a movie producer Albert Ratner who has practically promised them he will get them $100,000 up front each and a percentage of the backend profits.  So far after two weeks he has not gotten them a deal but now Hilary Swank has shown a real interest only she wants to play Billy's part in the movie. However, Swank won't do the movie without a studio backing it and Albert is having a hard time getting a studio to back it. He's beginning to look at independent investors such as the owner of the Cowboys, Norm Oglesby who is very interested in expanding into making movies.

Part of their day involves meeting the famous Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and Billy instantly falls for the strawberry blonde Faison with whom he makes out with and she seems taken with him as well.  It becomes a comedy of errors for him to try to get not just her phone number or email address but her last name, as he makes attempts to see her during the game and at halftime.  This is the closest the poor barely virginal Billy has come something real with a woman that he has been looking for over the past two weeks.  He wants something more than just sex with a woman and Faison seems to provide it.

They barely make it through the half-time show as it is a real extravaganza with fireworks and loud noises going off everywhere and they have no real idea where they are supposed to be at any given moment until they are told to march.  Load is drunk off his ass and Sykes is balling his eyes out, but they march on the best they can through the frozen sleet that is falling on the ground and the wretched spectacle that they are forced to be a part of.  It's like some kind of PTSD hell.  Afterward,  the reality of the movie deal begins to become apparent as the clock ticks down to their departure back to Iraq where they will finish their tour of duty, that in a way at this point they are looking forward to.

Throughout the book, Billy is contemplating the meaning of life in a very unique and creative way that only a cynical nineteen-year-old who has seen more than most of us having can.  He was given the choice of going to jail or the Army after he tore apart his sister's ex-fiance's car after the guy broke up with her when she was in a horrendous car accident that left her heavily scarred and needing multiple surgeries that she is still going through.  His sister blames herself for Billy being in danger and does something dangerous herself to try to save her brother.  So Billy has, even more, to think about as the day passes by.  This is not your typical war book and the author has a creative way of writing certain things such as when people crowd up to the Bravos and start saying things the words on the page are haphazard as though they are coming at Billy from every direction and are of course written in the Texas twang dialect.  I also love the way the "Star Spangled Banner" is sung on the page. It is one of the hardest songs to sing and he depicts it so accurately here. This book does seem to be down on Bush, but it was written in 2012 when we knew so much more about his presidency and the WMDs or lack thereof.  But it is not a political book. It is a soldiers book. A soldier who is taking a moment to reflect on life and death as he knows it before going "once more into the breach."

*The author took creative licence with the time line in that the novel the new stadium was announced in April of 2004, which does not fit with the other facts in the book and Destiny's Child sings at halftime and they broke up at the beginning of 2006. In the book they are still in Irving, Texas, but in the book, as you may have noticed, the owner's name is different. The roster is also made up. Yes, I am anal enough to try to pinpoint a year for when this imaginary event took place.


So they’ve lost Shroom and Lake, only two a number man might say, but given that each Bravo has missed death by a margin of inches, the casualty rate could just as easily be 100 percent. The freaking randomness is what wears on you, the difference between life, death, and horrible injury sometimes as slight as stooping to tie your bootlace on the way to chow, choosing the third shitter in line instead of the fourth, turning your head to the left instead of the right. Random. How that shit does twist your mind.
-Ben Fountain ( p 26-7)
 If a bullet’s going to get you, it’s already been fired.

-Ben Fountain ( p 27)
 You can deny him, he thought, watching his father across the table. You can hate him, love him, pity him, never speak to or look him in the eye again, never deign even to be in his crabbed  and bitter presence, but you’re still stuck wit the son of a bitch. One way or another he’ll always be your daddy, not even all powerful death was going to change that.

-Ben Fountain ( p 79)
 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.

-Ben Fountain ( p 103)
 Billy tries to imagine the vast systems that support these athletes. 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—sent 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! Attack with all our bears and raiders, our ferocious redskins, our jets, eagles, falcons, chiefs, patriots, cowboys—how could a bunch of skinny hajjis in man-skirts and sandals stand a chance against these all-Americans? Resistance is futile, oh Arab foes. Surrender now and save yourself a world of hurt, for your mighty football players cannot be stopped, they are so huge, so strong, so fearsomely ripped that mere bombs and bullets bounce off their bones of steel. Submit, lest our awesome NFL show you straight to the flaming gates of hell!

-Ben Fountain ( p 184)
 “When he died, it’s like I wanted to die too.” But this wasn’t quite right. “In a way it was like the whole world died.” But that wasn’t it either. “In a way it was like the whole world died.” Even harder was describing his sense that Shroom’s death might have ruined him for anything else, because when he died? When I felt his soul pass through me? I loved him so much right then, I don’t think I can ever have that kind of love for anybody again. So what was the point of getting married, having kids, raising a family if you knew you couldn’t give them your very best love?

-Ben Fountain ( p 218)
Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Billy-Lynns-Long-Halftime-Walk/dp/0060885610/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471876745&sr=1-1&keywords=billy+lynn%27s+long+halftime+walk+ben+fountain

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