Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Bravo's Victory Tour

What impeccable timing--I get to add my post about Ben Fountain's novel Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk right after Beyonce's double billing at the Inauguration and the Super Bowl half-time pre-blackout extravaganza.

This novel, nominated recently for the National Book Award, follows a 19-year-old Texas soldier--in the army to avoid jail--and his fellow members of Bravo Company, who successfully faced and defeated insurgents in Iraq.  Because the experience was captured by imbedded Fox cameramen, Americans back home learned of the victory.  The men are brought home for a "Victory Tour," crisscrossing the country before finishing the tour at a Dallas Cowboys game--before being shipped back to Iraq to finish their tours of duty.

While Billy is certainly the protagonist of the story, Fountain fleshes out all the members of Bravo, a believable cross section of young Americans.  Throughout the Bravos' tour, they are accompanied by a Hollywood producer negotiating the movie rights by cell phone, promising the soldiers hefty royalties. (Hillary Swank, by the way, is interested in playing the lead--a composite of Billy and his superior officer). While the narratives follows Billy for a short visit home with his mother, his father, now wheelchair-bound and unable to speak because of a stroke, his two sisters and nephew, the majority of the story is set in the Cowboys stadium, as the men receive VIP treatment in owner Norm Ogilsbie's private lounge, meet the iconic Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, and even appear in the half-time show with Beyonce and Destiny's Child.

The story is sometimes painful and poignant, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny as it focuses a jaundiced eye on the stateside political scene, and especially the views of the war--from naively gungho to outright protest. Fountain fairly shows the complicated, contradictory facts--maybe even truths--about war, particularly this  way.  Most amusing, though, is the inside view of the politics of NFL football. 

More than any book I've read in awhile, this one played out in my head like a movie, all the way up to the final, funny, sad, emotional farewell, as the Bravos prepare to depart in their limos, heading back to the battle zone.  By that time, I'm sure, Beyonce had left the building.

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