This novel by Ben Fountain was one of my favourite reads of the last year. Telling the story of a young soldier, the Billy Lynn of the title, the book shows the effect of wartime action on the young men who are expected to reflect the aspirations of the American public, the ones fighting wars from the comfort of their sofas.
Billy is part of Bravo Company. He and his comrades have seen action in Iraq and have acquitted themselves well. They return to the USA as heroes and we see, through Billy’s eyes, how the war against terror is seen by those who don’t have to fight it. Now part of the propaganda machine, Bravo Company are expected to perform the part of heroes even when, like Billy, they have no idea how heroes should behave or even why they are seen in that light.
During the course of one day, when the soldiers are guests at an American Football game in Dallas, Billy reflects on his time as a soldier, the reasons for joining the army, his relationship with his family and his imminent return to Iraq. All the while, a film producer hovers painting a picture of the film that he intends to make of Bravo Company’s heroic exploits.
The novel shows how cheap the political slogans are when thrown at people who have experienced the reality of war but it also shows that soldiers cherish the comradeship over all else; their loyalty is more to each other than to any cause. This is demonstrated through the character of Billy’s sergeant who may be dead, dying in Billy’s arms back in Iraq, but who is all too present with the group in spirit and in the legacy of his advice and command of his company.
‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?