Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

This is not a book I would normally choose to read on my own, but it was a book club book, so I got it from the library, set it on the counter, stared at it for a couple of weeks, renewed it, read the first nine pages, put it back on the counter, stared at it some more, and finally picked it up to read it about three days before our book club was meeting.  Despite lots of good press about this book, I couldn't really figure out how to motivate myself to read a book about a military guy on leave from the Iraq war. 

But, seriously, it IS a good book. It is overall depressing as hell, but there are moments of lightheartedness that makes it not as soul-destroying as you might think.  It was perfect for our book club because we'd had a bunch of seriously sad books in a row and this one fit in that mold, but all we could really talk about were the moments that made us laugh.

And how terrible we treat veterans in this country. 

Also, Fountain did this thing in which he wrote small poem-like passages to represent words and sounds that the narrator would sort of hear when he wasn't really paying attention, but letting his mind wander and the visual of this was key. Fountain didn't have to say "his eyes glazed over and he stared into the distance" because we knew that's what he was doing based on the way the sounds were represented on the page. It was an effective way of writing that he used several times throughout the book, but not so often that it became a gimmick.

It seems as if there are some people who rag on this book for being filled with cliches about war and young men who are involved in war, but I don't know if 1) those cliches are untrue 2) if those cliches are not worth examining in greater detail.  Only a small percentage of families in this country are sending troops overseas and most of us don't have an immediate family member or close connection to someone who has been to Iraq or Afghanistan in a military uniform and while it's easy to want to dig your head in the sand and pretend it's not happening, it's not fair those families for us to do so.  War time fiction is depressing as hell* and this is no exception. War time fiction is full of truths we don't always want to acknowledge as truth.  But sometimes we should force ourselves to look a bit deeper and this book accomplishes that.

*I think war time fiction is almost always universally depressing. But my husband tells me that some people find it exciting or inspiring. I don't know that I'm on board with that, but I guess I shouldn't just universally paint my own feelings on the matter to everyone in the world.  You may find this other than depressing, I guess.

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