The year is 2004, and the war in Iraq slogs on, with rising casualties and no sign of the weapons of mass destruction. When a squad of brave soldiers comes to the aid of their ambushed comrades and the subsequent firefight is captured by an embedded Fox News camera team, the men become instant celebrities.

That’s the premise of Ben Fountain’s sly, raucous, occasionally bawdy first novel, one that recounts the wildly improbable Thanksgiving Day that eight members of Bravo squad, including Texas native Specialist Billy Lynn, spend as guests of the Dallas Cowboys. Fountain employs his ample satiric gifts to depict how flag-waving patriotism merges with our worship of professional football in a single manic event.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk teems with a host of colorful characters, starting with the members of Billy’s squad—men with nicknames like “A-bort” and “Load.” Accompanying them is a Hollywood producer who’s optioned their story and thinks he’s about to persuade Hilary Swank to sign on to the project. There are the nubile Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and the team’s slick, predatory owner. In a wickedly funny locker room scene, the football stars offer to make an excursion to Iraq (no more than a couple of weeks, of course) to polish off a few terrorists.

The fawning civilians (still recovering from the shock of “nina leven” and committed to the war on “terrRr”) are mesmerized by the soldiers’ courage, and yet somehow detached from their experience. Fountain perfectly captures the bewilderment of Billy and his cohorts at this phenomenon, made more poignant by the knowledge that the white Hummer limousine that will transport them from Texas Stadium at game’s end is the first step in their redeployment to Iraq.

No doubt there will be other novels that turn to humor to examine this troublesome period in our nation’s history. They will certainly find themselves up against some stiff competition when measured against this shrewd story.

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Read an interview with Ben Fountain for Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.

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