Nineteen year old Army Specialist Billy Lynn is completing a two week tour of the U.S. with seven fellow surviving members of Bravo Company, second platoon, first squad. Fox News has renamed them Bravo Squad, after its embedded team recorded a fierce firefight on a remote canal in Iraq in which the squad heroically battled Iraqi insurgents. The frequent airing of that video has turned them into national heroes, and the Bush administration has sent them on tour to rally support for the war, culminating on Thanksgiving Day at a Dallas Cowboys football game, where they will be part of an extravagant halftime show.
Ben Fountain's debut novel Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk spends that day inside Billy's head. He watches oleaginous Cowboys owner Norm Oglesby (who bears a remarkable resemblance to Jerry Jones) bloviate about patriotism, bravery and all things Texan. He observes movie producer Albert Ratner as he attempts to sell movie rights to their story, even if it means letting Hilary Swank play Billy's role. He is mesmerized by the cheerleaders (one in particular) and overwhelmed by frantic excess of the halftime show. The squad is unstintingly polite and obliging to gushing admirers, but raucous, adolescent and over-served when no one is watching. But through all the blitz and glitz Billy is grieving the loss of his beloved sergeant, and wrestling with his feelings about his family, his fellow soldiers and his return to Iraq.
Fountain's language is can be blisteringly sharp, funny, dizzying, and sometimes achingly sad. By the end I was exhausted but reluctant to leave Billy and Bravo Company behind.