Sometimes, I read a book and am immediately affected by it. I either love it or hate it as soon as I am a few chapters in. And sometimes, a book is more of a “slow burn”…it might take a bit longer to get myself immersed in it, but when I do, the book will stay with me for a very long time. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is one of those books. I simply cannot stop thinking about it, can’t stop worrying about the (fictional!) characters, and can’t stop trying to figure out what happens to them after the book.
Billy Lynn tells the story of Bravo Squad — a heroic bunch of young soldiers who were part of a daring and brave attack early on in the war in Iraq. They are “rewarded” with a Victory tour around America. They visit big cities and are — for the most part — treated as heroes. The Bush administration welcomes them to the White House, decorates them with medals, and plasters their faces and stories all over TV and other media in an effort to humanize the war. Hollywood is interested in their story (even though Hillary Swank wants to play a member of the all-male unit), and they quickly become minor celebrities. They finish up their tour on Thanksgiving Day, at Cowboy stadium in Dallas, the most American place in the entire world.
The main character, Billy Lynn, isn’t even 20 years old. He narrates the story — mostly about their day in Dallas, but with huge chunks told in flashback — and quickly becomes someone quite real, someone that you might know, and someone that you end up caring and worrying about. He’s hungover, misses his family, and wonders why he hasn’t found his soul mate yet. He’s lonely and scared…The Bravo Squad is heading back to Iraq the next day, and Billy can’t quite wrap his head around what that means. His sister wants him to run away, but Billy isn’t sure he has much of a life other than the military. The ultimate Catch-22.
The writing and characters (including the Harvey Weinstein guy, the Jerry Jones guy, as well as his fellow soldiers and family members) felt real to me (even though I know very little about the actual military or the military lifestyle). And Billy broke my heart. Sometimes very much a teenager (the ridiculous obsession with Destiny’s Child!), but other times wise and toughened beyond his years. Its easy to see why this book ended up on so many “best of” lists for 2012.
Happy New Year!