Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Beginning the new Reading Year with Ben Fountain

A full week into the new year and I haven't posted any thoughts or reviews. I do apologize. Can a blogger have writer's block? I believe this happened to me once before and it's a terrible feeling. At once, there is so much on my mind yet so few words with which to express it all. The new year has brought a mixed bag of opportunities to grieve and to rejoice. Through it all, there are books, a reader's salvation.

I'm in the middle of three fabulous novels and will be holding my first book discussion of the new year tomorrow at the library. Amy Waldman's The Submission will be controversial. I'll let you know how it goes down with my bookies here in Estero.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk has received kudos galore, yet I haven't heard any of my customers asking for it and I'm curious as to why. Is it too soon to be writing about the Iraq War? I hardly think so. Is the author, Ben Fountain, a veteran who is too close to his material? No, in fact, he was an attorney before being nominated for the National Book Award.

Karl Marlantes, author of the most compelling novel of war that I've ever read, Matterhorn, called Fountain's first novel "the Catch-22 of the Iraq War." Is it funny? At times I did laugh out loud. But more often I succumbed to a profound our human weaknesses, our arrogance, our foolishness, and especially, at the futility of war.

Billy Lynn is a nineteen year old war hero. He isn't even sure why but he's sure that he will never be the same young man who deployed with the Bravos barely a year ago. Because there was a TV journalist from, of course, Fox News, (one of Fountain's victims of brilliant mockery), embedded with the troops, a reluctant act of bravery by Billy and his group landed on the front page of every paper, and the TV screens of every home, in America.

Now the heroes are being used by the Defense Dept. (do you remember Jessica Lynch?) to promote the war and entice other young men into service. As they are sent around the country for public displays of jingoism, backslapping, and hero worship, these boys begin to realize the idiocy of their situation. They are set to be redeployed within days.

Ben Fountain is a master wordsmith. His insight into hypocrisy is razor sharp. His hilarious take down of the phony world of Hollywood is spot on. It seems that the story of the Bravos and their successful battle at the Al-Ansakar canal is being shopped around by a film producer. Will George Clooney put up the money? Is Hillary Swank really interested in the lead?

This is not a book to be missed. Ben Fountain is a remarkable writer whose characters live and breathe on every page. Billy's sister Kathryn, the pacifist who wants to spirit him out of the country, Norm, the entourage laden owner of the Dallas Cowboys, and Faison, the perky, big breasted cheerleader willing to relieve Billy of his virginity IF he remains a hero, are at once caricatures and people we meet every day on the street.

This a profound expose of America's love affair with war and the devastating effects on the young men we place in harm's way.

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