Book reviews from The Free Lance-Star.
When will he discover the lie?
WAR HERO IS LAUDED THEN BETRAYED BY HIS SUPERIORS
By Drew Gallagher
For The Free Lance-Star
LEST WE FORGET, war is Hell.
Even the modern sanitized attack of the drones inflicts daily pain and horror , despite no longer garnering front-page consideration. American women and men, many fresh-faced and recently graduated, are coming home in flag-draped coffins.
Ben Fountain’s début novel, “Bill Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” is a well-written, often comic condemnation of our nation while at war.
Billy Lynn is a soldier in the Army and a member of Bravo Squad. Billy is like thousands of soldiers shipped off to Iraq and Afghanistan, except he happens to be caught in a firefight the squadron was involved in that was was filmed live by an embedded TV crew.
Billy, trained to act without thinking, administers aid with one hand to his mortally wounded friend while holding the charging Iraqis at bay with the machine gun in his other hand.
For the patriotic masses sitting in front of the 11 o’clock news, the men of Bravo are heroes, and none more so than the kid from Texas who single-handedly gave payback for 9/11.
So the Army decides to bring Bravo back to the home front where they can be paraded around the nation on a two-week tour to ratchet up support for a forgotten and unpopular war.
The final stop on the tour is Texas Stadium for the annual Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving game. But the little secret that is kept from the American public is that Bravo isn’t going home to their families after the Thanksgiving game—rather they’re headed back to the front lines for another 11 months to finish out their tour.
The front lines, where every day has the very real potential to be one’s last, and Billy knows there is no certainty in his future except for war.
“How does anyone ever know anything—the past is a fog that breathes out ghost after ghost, the present a freeway thunder run at 90 mph, which makes the future the ultimate black hole of futile speculation. And yet he knows, at least he thinks he knows, he feels it seeded in the purest certainty of his grief as he finds his seat belt and snaps it shut, that snick like the final lock of a vast and complex system. He’s in. Bound for the war. Good-bye, good-bye, good night, I love you all.”
War fiction or otherwise, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is a majestic and memorable novel. And what raises it to the heights of great literature is that the reader is invested in Billy Lynn and cannot possibly imagine sending him back to Iraq to face his death. But that is where Billy and Bravo Squad must go because we, as a country, make it so.
Drew Gallagher is a freelance reviewer in Spotsylvania County.
BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK
By Ben Fountain
(HarperCollins, $25.99, 320 pp.)
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