I’m Afraid of Americans

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Reading Challenge: A book that’s becoming a movie this year

Fun trivia fact about your blogger hostess: a large chunk of this book was read while listening to Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” on loop. I’m currently obsessed with that song (my obsessions are rarely if ever timely), but it did occur to me while listening that in spite of a shared overarching theme the song actually doesn’t suit this book that well. Setting aside the David Bowie choice of my title, the Dire Straits song that actually matches the book is definitely “Money for Nothing.”dire-straights-money-for-nothing

This is the most American book I have ever read.

That is, a certain type of America. The “money for nothing and the chicks for free” mentality-type American. The Texas guns-and-Jesus-and-‘Murica type American. The kind of America that commodifies young women into their body parts and praises young men at war without understanding or providing them with anything they actually need when they get home. Football. Spectacle. Thanksgiving. America.

The book takes place more or less over a single Thanksgiving day in the early days of Iraq Part II (with flashbacks) from the perspective of 19 year-old war hero Billy Lynn. I was dying to say the stream-of-consciousness and the single-day thing reminded me of Virginia Woolf, but damn it, I haven’t read any. Someone who has can enlighten me.

Anyway, Billy and his Bravo squad are part of a victory tour before returning overseas, after their heroics in battle were captured by a news crew and garnered medals. Everyone at the stadium wants a piece of them (that commodification again) and nobody really stops to consider what they might actually need. Their stumbles from one stop to another are picaresque, hilarious and tragic, and get repetitive after a while (on purpose, one can only assume) before getting to the actual halftime show. That’s definitely the best chapter of the book, which I don’t want to spoil for you (although it looks like the trailer for the movie coming out this year might have sort of already done that, but if you haven’t read the book you might not see everything that’s going on there).

You know what? It’s a good book. This reading challenge is getting me to read a lot of good books. But this is also the latest in a series of books I admire without really loving. Once again, well done, full marks, but just not my book.

Recommended pairing: God, they drink so much in this book, I kind of want to recommend a soda. But you know what? This book is full of people talking about how cold it is at 34 degrees. How about a Harpoon Winter Warmer to warm your toesies, little babies?



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