Despite being recommended by a former leader of the fearless Brown Baggers, many group members were slightly skeptical as they first began reading Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. The seemingly crude tone and military focus slowly gave way to a much more richly crafted satire of Bush’s America during the Iraq War.
The Brown Baggers agreed this was certainly a different perspective of military life. We discussed how themes of manipulation, power, and image were woven throughout the book. The men of Bravo Company are being used for a Hollywood movie deal while the Dallas Cowboys are also trying to capitalize on the goodwill shown towards these soldiers. It can’t be categorized strictly as extortion though — in a way, the men of Bravo are keenly aware of how they are being used as pawns. Their gains may not be as substantial, but they game the system as much as possible to get forbidden booze and escape punishment for rowdy behavior. These constantly shifting power plays are evident in almost every scene, no matter which characters are involved.
As mentioned above, the power of image and appearance was also a prevalent motif. While the firefight in Iraq was a real occurrence caught by news cameras, the tidy packaging of the violence let the public see it more as an action movie at a safe remove. In that way, we see how our bloodlust can be simultaneously satiated and justified. The glossy, sanitized footage goes hand in hand with the empty stock phrases used by the gushing public. They would not be willing to fight themselves, so they fawn over Billy and the other soldiers. This was also echoed in the unique stylistic choices in the text, such as the frequent occurrences of scattered words and and vernacular pronunciation: nina-leven, double y’im dees, terrRist, currj, Eye-rack. Fountain’s style reflects the distracted mindset, fuzzy thinking of Billy mixed in with the lipservice paid by the adoring (but easily distracted) public audience — all meaningless out of context and dizzyingly cacophonous.
- Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, discusses Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
- Review in the New York Times
- Interview with Ben Fountain after being nominated for the National Book Award.
Join the Brown Baggers on September 18 at noon to discuss Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.