There haven't been very many novels written yet about the Iraq War. Perhaps we are still to close to the events to have enough perspective for those type of books. That makes it all the more interesting when one pops up. BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK follows a day in the life of a young Iraq war hero. Billy and his fellow Bravo Squad members are on a Victory Tour of the United States after surviving a firefight with Iraqi insurgents. During this brief but highly visible encounter, Bravo Squad became known as the "heroes of the battle of Al-Ansakar Canal." For a government that needs some positive press surrounding an unpopular war, these young men are a goldmine. The men have been sent around the country as war celebrities in an attempt to rally public sentiment. They are even connected with a Hollywood producer who is trying to sell their story and make them rich. The novel takes place on one of the final days of their tour before they are sent back to Iraq. The young men are celebrity guests at the Thanksgiving Dallas Cowboys game. 19-yr-old Billy Flynn is a Texas native and won a Silver Star as a result of his actions in the famous battle. He is conflicted by his many feelings about both being back home and by his participation in all of these events as a reputed war hero. As the day progresses, Billy must confront some truths about himself and what he really believes about the war.
I thought this novel was skillfully done. It really brought home the effects of the war experience on many young men and how our nation struggled to understand the Iraq War. The war was so tied up with our feelings about 9/11 that it was difficult to separate the two events. Everyone felt compelled to support the war or risk being labeled as unpatriotic at best and traitors at worst. The young men who fought in the war dealt with even greater issues. I think Fountain did a great job bringing out some that inner conflict in the character of Billy Lynn. That being said, I was little disappointed with this book. I expected so much more. It felt really slow and I had a hard time engaging with the characters. It wasn't a particularly enjoyable read and, for such a short book, I really struggled to finish it.
BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations. While the book is well-written and the subject matter is interesting, the book probably has more appeal for individuals with first-hand experience of war. I found the book really hard to get through and very slow.