A great novel by Ben Fountain about returning soldiers. Louisville-Michigan, for all the marbles. And paying mourners to be at your funeral


You ever read a first novel by an author and decide you’re going to read everything else they write?

That’s kind of how I feel about Ben Fountain, offer of a fantastic novel I just read, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.” The story focuses on a group of Army soldiers just back from Iraq going on a two-week U.S. “victory tour,” after footage of their brave actions during a firefight were captured on camera and broadcast in America.

Suddenly a bunch of small-town, unsophisticated kids are being whisked around the nation and feted for bravery and valor. Only problem is, Billy Lynn, a 19-year-old soldier who was apparently the “star” of the video, isn’t sure how he feels about any of it.

The setting for the entire book is a trip Bravo company takes to the Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day football game, and the myriad adventures that take place there. There’s the team owner (clearly based on Jerry Jones) who wants to show the boys off, but later turns out to be not such a great guy; the movie producer trying to leverage a deal for Bravo before they have to return to Iraq in a few days; and a born-again and gorgeous Cowboys cheerleader who quickly falls for Billy.

Fountain’s descriptions and writing are beautiful, and he examines the strangeness of our “instant hero” military culture in a clever way without ever hitting you over the head with his message.

The novel was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award, and I highly, highly recommend it.


**A great night tonight and a sad one for us college basketball fans; it’s great because a new national champion will be crowned, but it’s a bummer because it means the season is over.

Some scattered thoughts from Saturday’s dramatic, if not really all that well-played, semifinals, and thoughts on tonight’s game between the Wolverines and the Cardinals:
— Michigan is the best team in the country, and I expect them to win tonight. I really thought Louisville was ripe to be beaten Saturday, but the Shockers just didn’t have enough firepower to do it. Michigan does; Trey Burke won’t have two terrible games in a row, and if they get something out of sharpshooter Nik Stauskas at all, the Wolverines will win it.

— I know it was a horrible injury and all, but if CBS shows us one more reaction shot of Louisville’s Kevin Ware on the sidelines tonight, I may vomit. They showed him 424 times, by my count, on Saturday. We get that he’s hurt and cheering the team on!
— Very much looking forward to seeing the Michigan “Fab Five” reunion in the stands tonight (sans Chris Webber, who’s apparently too busy), and clips of those teams. Man were they fun to watch back in the day.
— Pumped for “One Shining Moment,” as always. Lots of great moments and chills from this tournament; why do I have a feeling Georgetown fans won’t want to watch those Florida Gulf Coast dunks all over again?

— My friend Tony doesn’t agree with me, but I think Michigan’s Mitch McGary (above) has a lot of Shane Battier-like qualities. Tenacious rebounder, excellent passer, and just a guy who looks like a winner. And also eminently hateable if he’s not on your team.
He could be the difference tonight.

— Really wanted to see Wichita State get to the finals; what a great story it’ll be when one of these mid-majors finally breaks through and wins the title.

**Finally today, I unfortunately have been at two funerals in the past several weeks, but I’m pretty sure everyone at both of them at least knew the deceased, and wasn’t hired to be there.

That’s apparently not the case in England, though, where a crazy business has sprung up. Apparently now if you want a big turnout at your funeral you can rent mourners.

A company called (appropriately) Rent A Mourner is now offering its services to families of the deceased; for about $68 U.S., they’ll brief they professional attendees about the life of the dead person, and will help “swell the visitor numbers,” the company website reads. “Whether you need to introduce new faces, increase perceived popularity or simply increase numbers, we’re here to help.”

This sounds incredibly tacky and tasteless, and I really hope it doesn’t catch on over here. (Potential conversation: “I’m so sorry about your loss. Bob was a heck of a guy.”
“Um, his name was Steve, but thanks.”)

Then again, we steal everything else from England, so my hopes aren’t high.


2 responses to “A great novel by Ben Fountain about returning soldiers. Louisville-Michigan, for all the marbles. And paying mourners to be at your funeral

  1. I just finished Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk on Sunday night. I thought it was fantastic.

  2. Matt,
    So glad you liked it, too; truly an absorbing book that I won’t soon forget.

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