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The Score So Far for 'Billy Lynn'

by Jerome Weeks 20 May 2012 9:37 AM

What can one say about a book review that concludes a great bonus in this particular novel is that the Bears beat the Cowboys? Well, so far, it’s in a tiny, minority. Ben Fountain’s novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk continues to rack up the accolades.


Ben Fountain’s debut novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk about which, we’ve written here and here — had already got a very nice review from the daily NYTimes and Kirkus Reviews when it got even stronger ones from the WashPost and the San Francisco Chronicle. Over on Goodreads, it’s already got 29 reviews (4.18 stars out of 5). A nd then came the Sunday TimesBook Review, in which author Geoff Dyer concludes his review that the slight feeling of contrivance in Ben’s ending at the Cowboys’ game on Thanksgiving Day “doesn’t detract from Fountain’s achievement — grand, intimate and joyous.”

About the only reviews, so far, that leave a sour taste is Publisher’s Weekly‘s (‘often campy writing style and canned dialogue” — say what?) and Michael Bourne’s in the LA Review of Books, with its condescending dismissals (“not the book our grandchildren will be reading 50 years from now to find out what life was like in this country during the Iraq War, but it is entertaining enough to pass the time until such a book comes along” — i.e., ‘a diverting, minor talent’) and its gripes about how long it took Fountain to write his second book (“Billy Lynn is very much the work of a writer still plodding through the formal complications of transitioning from the short story to the novel. Fountain is 53. Two or three books from now, he may be capable of turning out a work of lasting genius, but at this rate he’ll be into his seventies when he does” – a point so petty, one wonders why Bourne cares).

So, in the spirit of glossy-snappy media coverage of the Cowboys (and to save you the time to read all those reviews), we offer this highlight reel and convenient blurb tally for the paperback edition:

Washington Post: “A masterful gut-punch of a debut novel.”

Janet Maslin, NYTimes: “a gripping, eloquent provocation. … The effect on readers … will be just as devastating.”

Adam Langer, San Francisco Chronicle: “A bracing, fearless and uproarious satire of how contemporary war is waged and sold to the American public … The book’s not merely good; it’s Pulitzer Prize-quality good, so much so that readers might find themselves wishing it had been published last year so that the Pulitzer committee could have saved themselves the bother of a hung jury, and just given its damn award to Fountain.”

Kirkus Reviews: “War is hell in this novel of inspired absurdity.”

LA Review of Books: “This spectacle-heavy, elongated short story shouldn’t really work as a novel, and for long stretches it doesn’t . . . In the end, as smart and funny as it is, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is the literary equivalent of a particularly good Jon Stewart routine on The Daily Show. Is it a pleasure to watch? Oh, yes. Are the jokes laugh-out-loud hilarious? At times, hell, yes. But if you don’t already agree with the authorial stance, will it make you rethink your views?”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Interesting book. A bonus: The Bears beat the Cowboys.”