Ben Fountain was inspired to write his first novel by a television broadcast of the Thanksgiving 2004 Dallas Cowboys game (still available for viewing in a very blurry Youtube video). Destiny’s Child performed the halftime show, which featured men dressed in military attire and a prominent martial drumbeat. The strange combination struck him, and the result is a searing, darkly funny satire of war.
Fountain won the 2007 PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award for his book of short stories Brief Encounters with Che Guevara.
Fountain is also the subject of a fascinating New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell about late-bloomers, which also encompasses Cézanne and Jonathan Safran Foer.
To get a feel for his novel, take a look at the preview on the HarperCollins website.
Adult/High School-Nineteen-year-old Billy Lynn is the hero of Bravo Company, whose actions during an ambush in the Iraq war were captured on video and broadcast endlessly on Fox News. Recognizing an opportunity to galvanize support for the war, the Army evacuates the eight surviving soldiers to America for a hero’s tour of the heartland. Billy earned a Silver Star, but in spite of his valor, he lost his best buddy, Shroom. He is struggling with grief and survivor’s guilt as the tour culminates at the Dallas Cowboy’s Thanksgiving Day football game. The novel unfolds across that one eventful game day, as Bravo Company mingles with Texas millionaires, pursues a movie deal, tours the team facilities, tries to convince Cowboy players that football is not battle, shares the halftime show with Beyoncé, and brawls with stagehands. As if that were not surreal enough, Billy sparks a heartfelt romance with a Cowboy’s cheerleader. The soldiers are fully aware that they are props for the projected patriotism of everyone they meet. No one acknowledges their trauma, nor is anyone aware they will return to Iraq at the end of the game. The cynicism of the soldiers and their wicked humor and hefty appetites for anything that will numb their experience make for a searing satire of the puffery that surrounded American patriotism after 9/11. Teens, especially boys with an appreciation for football or soldiering, will be amused by the spot-on buddy banter among the Bravos and will find the novel engaging and entertaining.–John Sexton, Greenburgh Public Library, NY