15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Hardcover)
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I thought this book was really excellent. It is hugely enjoyable and brilliantly written - engrossing, funny and extremely wise and shrewd about its subject and its characters.
The narrative has been well summarized here and elsewhere: briefly, Billy Lynn and his fellow soldiers of Bravo squad were filmed in a heroic firefight in Iraq and the Bush administration is now shipping them around the USA on a highly publicised "Victory Tour" to bolster support for the war. The book is an account of their last day of the tour seen through Billy's eyes and serves as a commentary on contemporary USA and its attitudes. It's a great read: excellently structured, involving and with a cast of brilliantly drawn characters including Billy himself who is a thoroughly engaging protagonist.
Ben Fountain satirises not so much the war itself as things like the hypocrisy, wilful ignorance and exploitation which surround it. He also shares JD Salinger's contempt for the phoney and how it has pervaded modern life. For example, of a rich businessman working a room: "Norm is confident, absolutely, he is the king of self-esteem, but this is the confidence of self-help tapes and motivational mantras, confidence learned as one learns a foreign language, and so the accent lingers in his body language, a faint arthritic creak in every smile and gesture." The book is full of these gems of insight as well as brilliant descriptive phrases like Billy ecstatically holding a beautiful cheerleader in his arms as she "breathes clouds of glory in his face," and I found the description of the half-time extravaganza so vivid as to feel I was there in Billy's shoes.
Some people have suggested that this is the Catch-22 of the Iraq war, but I'm not sure I agree. I think the style is closer to Hunter S. Thompson than to Joseph Heller, and I would describe it more as the Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas of the Iraq War. It stands on its own merits, though and it's a simply brilliant, engaging, thought-provoking read and very, very warmly recommended.