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First Peek into Ben Fountain's New Novel
by Jerome Weeks 4 Oct 2011

Those of us bowled over by Dallas writer Ben Fountain’s debut short-story collection, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara knew his much-anticipated first novel was going to be called Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Now we know more about it — including the publication date.


The Frankfurt Book Fair is this month, and as part of the run-up to one of the largest book industry marketplaces in the world, European publishers and book agents have been touting their new titles.  And so I happened to come across the Curtis Brown literary agency‘s website, with its information about Ben Fountain’s debut novel,  Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. It’s a nifty little find because, although HarperCollins’ Ecco Press is going to publish the novel in America, there’s absolutely no info about it on their site.

We already knew that Billy Lynn was the title for Fountain’s much-anticipated second book — after his impressive 2004 debut, the short-story collection, Brief Encounters with Che GuevaraBilly came about, though, only after what was going to be the Dallas writer’s first novel, The Texas Itch, stalled and eventually flamed out completely. Just the fact that he was able to write his way past that frustration is mighty encouraging.

While Brief Encounters displayed Fountain’s talent for (among other things) wry humor about Americans abroad, Billy Lynn is set during the Iraq War and is a full-out satire “about the gaping disconnect between the war at home and the war abroad. ” Turns out, despite the football title, Billy Lynn is as much about the military, media celebrity and the Bush administration as it is about Texas or the Dallas Cowboys.

Curtis Brown’s happy movie-pitch synopsis: “A Catch-22 for our times.”

Oh yes. Pub date in America is May 2012.

Take the jump for the longer plot summary.

From the PEN/Hemingway award-winning and critically acclaimed author of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara comes a razor sharp satire set in Texas during the American war in Iraq about the gaping disconnect between the war at home and the war abroad. A Catch-22 for our times.

The eight surviving members of Bravo Squad have been touring the U.S. for the past two weeks on their media-intensive “Victory Tour,” part of a campaign to reinvigorate popular support for the war. Four months into their combat tour in Iraq, Bravo defeated an elite force of enemy insurgents at what has come to be known as “the battle of Al-Ansakar Canal.” Their victory, however, came at a cost–one of their number, Sergeant Breem, aka “Shroom,” was killed in action, and another, Specialist Lake, nearly perished when both of his legs were blown off. The most critical minutes of the battle were captured on film by a Fox News camera crew, and this videotape–broadcast widely on television at home and abroad, and a viral sensation on the internet–turned the men of Bravo into celebrity heroes virtually overnight.

Seizing on this golden public relations gift, the Bush administration quickly arranged for the Bravos to be flown home to embark on a nationwide tour, the final day of which takes place at Texas Stadium, on the occasion of the Dallas Cowboys’ nationally broadcast Thanksgiving Day game against the Chicago Bears. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk follows the Bravos through the course of this day, especially its hero, Specialist William Lynn, aka Billy, a 19-year-old Texas native and virgin who was awarded the Silver Star in recognition of his valiant exploits at the Al-Ansakar Canal. During the course of this day, Billy and his fellow Bravos will, among other adventures, be guests of honor in the suite of Cowboys owner Norman Oglesby, mix and mingle with some of the nation’s wealthiest individuals, aspire to sex and marriage with the world-famous Cowboys cheerleaders, share center stage with Destiny’s Child during the halftime extravaganza, attempt to close a movie deal with the help of veteran Hollywood producer Albert Ratner, endure the politics and affections of many hundreds of their fellow citizens, in addition to physical assaults, yearn for home, mourn their dead, and consume alcohol whenever the occasion presents itself, all the while contemplating the reality of their return to combat operations in Iraq within the next several days.