Billy Lynn’s
Long Halftime Walk

 

 

 

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is the great American novel of war and peace for our times, as we reckon in the early 21st Century with years of involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The storytelling genius here favors an encompassing look at war and soldiering juxtaposed with civilian discomfort and worse. Billy Lynn and his Bravo squad buddies are dropped into the most heightened spectacle-drenched civilian parallel universe: an NFL game, Dallas Cowboys at home in Texas. Bravo squad is on leave at the game in 2004 for their last “Victory Tour” stop. They are primed to meet Destiny’s Child during a halftime extravaganza that will involve the soldiers. After an embedded cameraman caught Bravo heroics in Iraq on film, the government saw the opportunity to energize war fever and sent them on the road. Hollywood is on hand, talking blockbuster potential. Billy Lynn is nineteen.

The story takes place over just a few hours, game time. The verve of this storytelling choice is exciting and germane to the large picture that Ben Fountain wishes to present, commingling and contrasting soldiers and civilians, war and the war-like game of football, our seduction by celebrity. Here, too, authentic self (flawed, of course) meets the easy con. Maintaining narrative momentum, Fountain dips into Billy’s past and interior self, fluid rather than schematic, to reveal boyish dreams, loss in war, and a soldier’s growing awareness of a more cunning and complex civilian world than he’d previously known. Wisdoms expressed by Billy are earned, believable and profound, strengthening the fabric of character and story. The novel weaves a narrative of personal stakes and societal shortcomings in our Iraqi involvement. Zestful vernacular speech delineates the ensemble of soldiers, adds texture and nimbly paces the story. Through sly cheer, braggadocio, profane asides and quirks of actions, the seriousness of the soldiers’ camaraderie and their outsider status at the game, and in the life they’ve known, is created. We come to know and root for all of them. Though this is Billy’s story, everyone gets a say: his comrades, yes, and many civilians — all used to living at a remove from war, from actual soldiers. Their incomprehension and haplessness are expressed variously in gushing thanks, muttered asides, avoidances, and bluntly probing questions. Such characters serve to draw in and discomfit the reader, as Fountain would wish. Perhaps there are no words to bridge the gap, at least not at a war-as-game football stadium with lunatic spectacle reigning supreme. But in the tradition of Flannery O’Connor whose belief that humor and horror riding neck and neck in fiction reveal most truthfully the human condition, Fountain adheres and makes the case brand new. His generosity of spirit extends over the whole shebang, most memorably over Billy.

— Maureen McCoy
2013 finalist judge



2013 Fiction Runner-Up

Click to see award video
Click to see award video

(Click photo to see acceptance speech at awards dinner.)

Ben Fountain
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

“The vast preponderance of American culture leans toward war. If this country is going to survive, we need institutions that encourage a more thoughtful, less reflexively belligerent approach to America's role in the world. The Dayton Literary Peace Prize is one such institution, and I'm very proud to be this year's fiction runner-up.”

—Ben Fountain                        


 

Ben Fountain is the author a novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, and a story collection, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara. His work has received the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the PEN/Hemingway Award, and a Whiting Writer's Award and also has been a finalist for the National Book Award both in the United States and the U.K. His nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal. His reportage on post-earthquake Haiti was broadcast nationally on the radio show "This American Life." A graduate of Duke University School of Law, he practiced real estate law before quitting the law in 1988 to become a full-time writer. He lives in Dallas, Texas.

* * *

Excerpt from the book

If there is real knowledge to be had in the Texas public schools he never found it, and only lately had he started to feel the loss, the huge criminal act of his state-sanctioned ignorance as he struggles to understand the wider world. How it works, who gains, who loses, who decides. It is not a casual thing, this knowledge. In a way it might be everything. A young man needs to know where he stands in the world, not just as a matter of basic human dignity but as determinants in the ways and means of survival, and what you might hope to gain by application of honest effort.

 

 
Implementation and ongoing support by Digital Stationery International, LLC