Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ben Fountain, _Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk_

WE ARE AGREED, I am going to assume, that Bret Easton Ellis is not a major American writer. This guy might be, however. Not prolific--one novel and one book of short stories, even though he is actually a few years older than Ellis--but he has nonetheless written one more masterpiece than Ellis has, that being Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.

Fountain manages a cartful of ambitious moves here.  Billy Lynn basically occurs on a single day, รก la Ulysses or Mrs Dalloway, which calls for some skill in novelistic thick description of ordinary moment-to-moment existence; Fountain convincingly does this from page one.

The novel adheres to Billy Lynn's point of view throughout, yet Fountain is able to blend hi-fi Free Indirect Style ("A couple of medias see him and here they come. Well fuck. What the hell. Billy sucks it up") and Fountain's own carbonated writerliness ("faces rim the bubble of media lights with a fish-eye arcuation and ovoid bulge"). This does not even seem possible, but Fountain makes it look easy.

The satirical strokes are sometimes broad, but always deft, as in the portrait of Norm Oglesby, a version of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that manages to surpass the original in sheer awfulness.

Finally, and crucially, Fountain speaks to his historical moment in a manner several orders of magnitude more profound than Ellis's litanies of brand names. Billy Lynn is a member of Bravo Company, a video of whose firefight in Iraq has been on a loop on Fox News and gone viral onYouTube. To shore up crumbling public support of the war, the Bush administration has sent them on a "Victory Tour" that culminates, on the day the novel is set, in an onstage appearance with Destiny's Child at halftime in a Dallas Cowboys home game. The following day, they ship back to Iraq.

Can you come up with a better scenario to convey the grimmest ironies of our society of  spectacle and consumption, and the ultimate cost of that society, and who is being ask to pay that cost? I can't. Destined to become a classic.


Hyacinth Marius said...

This well written, often humorous and deeply sad book was a riveting read. It showed the best and worst of what America has to offer.
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Theobald said...

Amen to that.