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Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

James Ruland, January 3, 2013

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain is stuffed so full of Americana, it’s enough to make the most effusive red-stater blush.

Set on Thanksgiving Day at Texas Stadium, the novel follows an Army infantry unit as they prepare to take part in the football game’s half-time festivities that will feature Destiny’s Child. We meet Specialist Billy Lynn and the rest of the Bravo squad on the final day of a two-week Victory Tour through the United States. The Bravos find themselves the focus of intense patriotic fervor after an embedded Fox News crew filmed them repelling Iraqi insurgents on the banks of Al-Ansakar Canal.

Billy is the focal point for the public. He earned a Silver Star for his heroics that day and bears the scrutiny better than most by playing the role of the humble soldier and tuning out the rhetoric. Words like “terrRist,” “nina leven” and “currj” drift in and out of Billy’s consciousness like a tone poem by Kenneth Patchen.

What the viewers at home don’t realize is that Billy’s actions were a response to the death of the soldier who served as his mentor and moral compass. Without him, Billy’s adrift in a sea of jingoistic lingo. But when the cameras are off, the Bravos are crass, crude and unrepentantly lewd with little on their minds but free, luxury-suite liquor and Beyoncé’s bountiful bootie.

Ironies abound in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which was nominated for a National Book Award. The Dallas Cowboys franchise emerges as a perfect symbol of America during the Bush years: a once-proud but now thoroughly mediocre team hijacked by a bumbling, no-nothing owner who acquired the franchise through oil money. Remind you of anyone?

The dirty little secret behind the Bravos’ Victory Tour is that when it’s over, they have to go back to Iraq, a fact that outrages everyone��"from Billy’s liberal-leaning sister to the Christian Cowboys cheerleader who falls for him to the ultra-rich boosters who backslap the Bravos in the luxury box.

And there’s the catch-22. If you celebrate the Bravos’ achievements, then you have to support sending them back into harm’s way. The fact that none of the characters do underscores the secret that so many red-blooded Americans were reluctant to admit: The only possible outcome for Bush’s bogus war was failure.

That’s a reality that no one on America’s Team can stomach.
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