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Humanity and Hilarity,
This review is from: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Hardcover)
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The story of `Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' is a sublime mixture of humanity and hilarity. Along with other soldiers of the Bravo squad in Iraq Billy has been hailed as a hero after a fearful firefight which was captured by TV news and is regarded as worthy of being made into a Hollywood movie. The soldiers' role is to bolster support for the Iraq war and they have been sent on a public relations tour of stage managed receptions in America before being returned back to combat duties. Apart from minor reflections and commentaries the time span covered by the narrative is concentrated on their final engagement at an American football game, though within this restricted period author Ben Fountain manages to develop credible characters to support his satirical tale. Billy is somewhat of a reluctant hero and is more capable of contemplation and consideration than other members of the squad apart from the Sergeant. His is a story of courage, hope and optimism set against fear, despair and foreboding to which Ben Fountain skilfully overlays propaganda and manipulation. `Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' is a poignant and powerful indictment on the Bush era and America's attitudes to war.
Interwoven amongst revelations to Billy's background, his family, and his confusion over the future there are thought provoking insights with ample scope for interpreting pros and cons of waging war to support democracy and freedom set against the costs of trauma and death. Also there is scope for humour from the camaraderie, even love, within a group of soldiers similar to bonding between mountaineers in civvie street. There is bad language and the soldiers exhibit rather too much vulgarity but it is justified via self deprecation. Also there is irritating American slang but it serves to highlight the limited intellect of "grunt" soldiers, and it allows a variety of encounters and experiences to be illustrated. Ben Fountain cleverly switches between arrogant, abusive behaviour and mild good manners, and he uses the Bravo squad to comment on American obsessions with big business, political pressures, religious authority, "Hollywood" influences, celebrities etc. as well as the human nature of ordinary citizens and their perspectives on the Iraq war. `Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' provides evocative descriptions of many elements of life in America, particularly with a portrayal of American football as dull and dreary. For British readers the narrative provides a revealing view of America in addition to its main thrust as an exposé on the ethics and morality of war.