When a reviewer declares that Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, “is as close to the Great American Novel as anyone is likely to come these days,” I am leery. Not that I don’t trust the reviewer (author Madison Smartt Bell), but GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL isn’t a big selling point for me.
(My hesitation is undoubtedly a holdover from bad summer reading lists, which were stuffed with GREAT AMERICAN NOVELS that were anything but. )
Despite the unfortunate categorization, I read the book. And it is terrific.
Nineteen-year-old Billy Lynn is one of the heroes of the Bravo Squad whose dramatic firefight with Iraqi insurgents was captured on tape by an embedded Fox News crew. As a result, the administration sends the surviving members of the squad on a two week Victory Tour to drum up support for the war.
To say that the boys of Bravo are ill prepared for their role as media darlings is a massive understatement.
Told from Billy’s view, the novel takes place during the final leg of the trip, a Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys football game. The Bravo Squad is feted by the team owner and featured in a halftime show along with the pop group Destiny’s Child.
The squad’s bewilderment is palpable. The boys are tired, hung-over, and anxious. Everything about the Thanksgiving Day experience is overblown and overfed. And despite the accolades, the squad is mostly overlooked.
During the course of the interminable day, Billy encounters a Hollywood producer, a crush-worthy cheerleader, hostile roadies, and rich-folk football fans.
His observations of those he meets and musings on family, friendship, and patriotism are hilarious and heartbreaking.
Football and war are not two of my favorite subjects, but the crackling prose style and Specialist Billy Lynn won me over.
Read Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and let me know what you think.