The first time I read ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ was last week. It is so incandescently brilliant I started buying copies for the right people. Then I worried that maybe I read it too quick, that it wasn’t as good as I thought. So I’m re-reading it and holy jesus, it is even better.
Quick summary: The novel chronicles one day in the life of 19-year-old soldier Billy Lynn, who’s on leave from Iraq. It’s Superbowl Sunday. He and his squad are completing a ‘Victory Tour’ as honored guests of the Dallas Cowboys.
America. Money. Grief. Sex. War. Love. Death. Booze. Cheerleaders. Religion. Football. Guns. Loss. Billy has to navigate it all with nothing more than his instinctive dignity and the brute education of Army life.
I don’t know how Fountain does it but it’s done. The characters leap off the page. The plot is fast and tight. The writing is coruscating. It’s a novel Hunter S Thompson might have written if he kept his shit together (it does for the Superbowl what ‘The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved’ did for that legendary sporting event).
Here’s a sampling of Fountain’s astonishing prose:
“She was still capable of sad, skewed smiles from time to time, forcing the cheer like Christmas lights in the poor part of town.”
“The Look, his gaze so frank and open-ended that Billy can’t help but wonder, Why me? At first he feared it was the start of some hideous gay thing, gay thing being virtually his sole reference point for prolonged eye contact from a fellow male, but lately he doubts it, a conclusion which required no small broadening of his view of human nature.”
“Okay, so maybe they aren’t the greatest generation by anyone’s standards, but they are surely the best of the bottom third percentile of their own somewhat muddled and suspect generation.”
“‘I’ll say this for nina leven,’ a man confides to him, ‘it shut the feminists up.’
‘Ah.’ Billy consults his drink. The feminists?
‘You bet,’ the man says. ‘They aren’t so interested in being ‘liberated’ now that we’re under attack. There’s certain tings a man can do that woman just can’t. Combat, for one. A lot of life boils down to physical strength.'”
“The money vibe can be felt at once, a faint hum, a kind of menthol tingling of the lips.”