A deadly firefight between U.S. forces and Iraqi insurgents is caught on video by a Fox News crew and before the eight surviving members of Bravo Company can get back to their barracks, the video has gone viral on the Internet. Suddenly, the soldiers are being hailed as American heroes in order to keep the positive spin going for the U.S. presence in Iraq. Billy Lynn and his fellow Marines are brought back to the United States for a “media intensive nationwide Victory Tour,” to be capped off by an appearance during halftime at a Dallas Cowboys football game before they’re shipped back to the desert fields of fire.
That’s the dramatic premise behind National Book Award-nominated Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by acclaimed author Ben Fountain, in his long-form literary debut. (Fountain’s only other published work is a collection of captivating short stories set mostly in Haiti.) It is a provocative, disturbing and extremely critical grunt’s-eye view of how we respond to heroism during a controversial military occupation. Fountain’s novel, which has been compared to other politically charged war novels such as Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five, invites us to question some of the moral ambiguities inherent in military service, such as how poorly we treat soldiers when they return from the war zone, while lampooning how we require veterans to play along with the charade of ridiculous dog-and-pony shows “honoring” them.
In a span of a few hours, Billy endures the meaningless clichés hurled at him by drunken football fans, egotistical professional team owners, their trophy wives and other hangers-on. When he experiences an epiphany in the form of a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader, he spies a chance to change the direction of his very existence. His ultimate choice will both alter his future and stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. Grade: A