1 Followers
2 Following
madbkwm

madbkwm

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain I wanted to give this 4 stars. I agree with Fountain's political positioning (and I found his commentary on consumeristic-narcissitic-self-absorbed-average America to be hilarious), but I spent too much time being annoyed to bump it up to 4 stars. It is better than average, really, but only because he is trying.

First, the title is a misnomer. Yes, the whole story takes place at Texas Stadium during a football game on Thanksgiving and yes, Billy Lynn is the main character. We do venture out of the stadium a bit during some flashbacks, but for the most part, it is a story in real time of Billy's absurd day. And, he does not go for a walk during halftime. I kept expecting him to hike it during the halftime show (especially because his sister is tempting him with AWOL), but that is not what happens. He takes several walks around the stadium (before the game, during the game) but NOT DURING HALF TIME. It just annoyed me that Fountain tried to be cute with the title and it was just plain wrong.

Second, he was just too repetitive. There were lots of witty comments about consumerism and patriotism, and Billy has wonderful insight (if a bit unrealistic for a barely educated 19 year old); but a lot of it was just the same mantra on repeat. So what if Fountain can think of 15 different witty ways to same the same thing; I don't need to read all of them. He harped on the poverty of the soldiers (most of our grunts come from those who don't have any other opportunities; it is the rich and powerful who make decisions about sending the poor kids off to die) as compared to the average American worried about buying power at the mall. He also points out the racial discrepancy between the grunts and the players at the game: "They could be the congregation of the richest church in town, Our Anorexic Lady of the Upscale Honky Bling; the only people of color here are the waitstaff and several gregarious former players, fan favorites from yesteryear who invested wisely and kept their noses clean."

Some great quotes:
"Everyone feels at least a little bit doomed basically all the time, even the richest, most successful, most secure among us live in perpetually anxious states of barely hanging on." I loved this comment on humanity's inability to be satisfied.

"Americans are incredibly polite as long as they get what they want"

"Yes, family was the key, Billy decided. If you could figure out how to live with family then you'd gone a long way toward finding your peace, but for that, the finding, the figuring out, you needed a strategy."

"Nonstop sales job of American life has instilled in them exceptionally high thresholds for sham, puff, spin, bullshit, and outright lies, in other words for advertising in all its forms."

"And all the malls, he could add, and the civic centers and hotel rooms and auditoriums and banquet halls that are so much alike across the breadth of the land, a soul-squashing homogeneity designed more for economy and ease of maintenance than anything so various as human sensibilities."

"Somewhere along the way America became a giant mall with a country attached."

During the whole half time performance, Billy takes a moment to think about the social effervescence (Durkheim) of orgainzed sports and compares it to religion: "He's too self-conscious and church-averse to accept a completely straight notion of god, so how about this--chemicals, hormones, needs and drives, whatever is in us that's so supreme and terrifying that we have to call it divine."

Ultimately, Billy buys into the whole thing; he is going back to war not because he believes in it (he doesn't and in fact believes in it even less after his Victory Tour), but because he wants to impress a girl. Which, in its own way is as much of a cop out for pop culture as anything else. After all, if she only is interested in him because he is a hero, then what will really happen when he returns? Most likely (as he acknowledges) nothing. And so, the conundrum: he can't leave the war or he loses his place in society but by going to war he is going to most likely lose Fasion and quite possibly his life.

Overall it is worth reading, but too long; would have been a better short story.