How did this novel sneak up on me? It’s a Lee Boudreaux title from Ecco, which makes it even more surprising that I didn’t read this gem in galley. All Lee Boudreaux does is publish one amazing book after another—to wit, Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, Ron Rash’s The Cove. And now, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
Big statement time: This may be the best American title I’ve read in years–certainly it’s among the best social novels I’ve read recently. If this book isn’t considered for major awards, I will lose what’s left of my faith in the awards. A lot of people are going to call this partisan fiction, but they’ll be missing the point. Like it or not, this book says a lot about the American way of life.
I keep hearing it referred to as a satire in the realm of Catch-22, but I don’t think that does it justice, either. Fountain is a storyteller first, and a social critic second, which is how he manages to absorb the reader so fully. While Billy’s interior dialogues are brilliant, what makes this novel so three-dimensional is the pure, tactile, sensory overload of it. Because Fountain is such a fine writer, you feel this story with your whole body—all the adrenaline, and tension, and nausea, and self-consciousness, and status awareness, and cold realization of it all. The novel is a veritable decoupage of physical sensation—from the stadium lights to the acid taste of bitterness, from the woozy discomfiture of a Jack Daniels hangover, to the galloping heartbeat of unfettered carnality. This novel lives in your bones.
Fountain tackles the big unwieldy subjects of Iraq, the war on terror, class, consumerism, partisan politics, you name it, and he does it all with one tiny aperture, a single point-of-view, a single location, and in real time. Not to mention sentences that crackle without distracting. Oh, and Fountain never hits a false note, something very few writers can sustain for 300 pages. Just so I don’t sound like a complete smoke-blower, one might argue that the novel feels a little repetitive at times—but I’m not the one. This novel rocked me hard.
I’ve never read Fountain’s debut collection, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, but you can bet it just made my TBR list.