Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Read by Oliver Wyman
Length: 11 Hrs 39 Min
Genre: Literary Fiction
Quick Thoughts: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a funny, farcical look at America in the 24 hour a day news culture where wars and tragedy become just as much entertainment as Football and movies. Fountain will have you laughing away the tears as you fall for Billy and his odd group of brother soldiers.
I learned the hard way that I can be a rather awkward when meeting someone I consider famous. When I was a teenager, me and my best friend went to see our favorite band at the time, a Christian Contemporary Rock band, called Petra, who was playing at a festival at the Philadelphia Race Track. The band played two sets, to a screaming twenty or so fans, and between the sets the various band members were on stage, and interacting with the fans. Being that me and my best friend made up nearly half the fans waiting to interact with the band, I got the chance to tell all my Petra stories, make my Petra jokes and blather endlessly about my Petra experiences. At one point, while retelling my stories to the keyboardist, it became apparent that I was annoying the hell out of the guy. Sadly, it took me longer than anyone else to realize this. I was mortified. Ever since then, when I met someone I liked, whether it is a musician, politician or author, I’m very wary of interacting with them. I remember plainly when I met Ed Rendell, who at that time was mayor of Philadelphia, at a fundraiser for a theatre I was working for. I tried my best to avoid him, but when I finally had to shake his hand, our interaction was basically, "So what so you do here?" "Sound." "Well, good job." "Thanks." Of course, then I worried that instead of annoying them, my brief terse conversations were offensive and cold. It seems its human nature to assume things about people who we feel a connection with, and assign qualities we respect to them without really knowing them. In Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk author highlights this phenomenon from the other side giving as a look into Billy Lynn and the Bravo Company as they interact with people who believe them to be heroes.
After a brutal battle between Bravo Company and insurgents in Iraq that was captured by FOX news, Billy Lynn and his fellow soldiers are on a brief stateside publicity tour before heading back to finish their stint in Iraq. While attempting to find a movie deal for their story, the boys of Bravo company finish out their final stop on Thanksgiving Day at Dallas Stadium, where they shake hands with powerful business men, mingle with the legendary Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and try to deal with being in the spotlight before returning to the front lines. Told from the perspective of Billy Lynn, a soft spoken 19 year old, now thrust onto the national stage, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a wonderful mix of humor, emotion and Americana run amok. For those who follow this blog, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a bit of a departure from my usual fare. I probably wouldn’t have listened to it except that it made a large number of end of year lists and was narrated by one of my favorite narrators, Oliver Wyman. Luckily, I did give it a listen and found it to be one of the more rewarding side jaunts for me this year. Billy Lynn is full of heart and humor and the ostentatiousness of America culture. Fountain manages to blend a pretty straightforward, accessible tale with moments of almost stream of consciousness as Billy and Bravo interact with streams of fans, all who assume that their politics and values are shared by the heroes. Set against the backdrop of the biggest America show their is, NFL Football, with it’s grandiose productions, hit musical acts and over produced Half Time Extravaganzas, Fountain manages to use the hugeness of it all to give us an intimate look at the conflicted soldiers. Fountain manages to evoke a wide array of emotions, from anger and embarrassment, to a bittersweet sadness, all through the eyes of a naive and conflicted soldier still attempting to deal with his grief while being gyrated against during Destiny Childs Half Time show. It these moments that really make this novel stand out, where the ridiculousness of the surroundings accentuates Billy Lynn’s internal conflicts. It’s a novel full of such contrasts, that you can’t help but see a little bit of yourself in the good and the bad. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a funny, farcical look at America in the 24 hour a day news culture where wars and tragedy become just as much entertainment as Football and movies. Fountain will have you laughing away the tears as you fall for Billy and his odd group of brother soldiers.
When a narrator of the caliber of Oliver Wyman says that a book is his favorite narration of the year, I pay attention. Wyman manages to capture the heart and humor of this novel perfectly. Wyman has a wide array of alter egos, ummm…. voices, to call on, yet none of them feel stock in anyway. Each character, from Billy himself, to the many people he interacts with along the way, are voiced with such authenticity, you almost forget your listening to a novel, but instead eavesdropping on hundreds of separate conversations. Wyman handles the interactions with the endless lines of glad-handers and well wishers especially well, allowing you to feel the frustration that Billy Lynn is too polite to show externally. If your an audiobook fan, and have yet to listen to one of Oliver Wyman’s narrations and are wary of quirky serial killers, spaceships and monster hunters, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk could be the perfect introduction to one of the best narrators out there.