Billy Lynn is a 19-year-old college dropout living in the small Texas town where he grew up. After he's arrested for trashing the car of his sister's ex, he's given two choices: face jail time or enlist in the Army.
He chooses the Army. And Iraq.
Author Ben Fountain's debut novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, is the story of what happens to Lynn after he joins Bravo Company in the early years of the Iraq war.
Fountain's writing debut came at 48 with his short story collection, Brief Encounters With Che Guevara. Weekends on All Things Considered guest host Laura Sullivan talks with the author, whose first novel has already won praise — and even comparisons to Catch-22.
On why he chose to set the novel almost entirely in one place — and in one day
"I didn't want any gimmicks. I didn't want any tricks. I didn't want there to be some mystery or big secret that was driving the narrative."
On his protagonist, Billy Lynn
"[He's] very conflicted about being honored and being considered a hero. ... He's been hoping and expecting and waiting to come across the person who's really going to listen to him and help him try to make sense of what he's been through. And he never finds that person."
On the role of language in his novel
"From the very start, the correct rhythm, the correct sound for this book was going to be a headlong, reckless, full-bore kind of rhythm to it. And I wanted to try to capture the intense experience that Billy and the other Bravos are having, this very vivid, almost overwhelming sensory experience. I wanted to try to capture that, not just the images that the language is evoking, but in the sound of the language itself. I didn't want to give the reader a rest."
On starting his writing career at the age of 48
"It just took me a long time to develop. And maybe if I had, you know, gone and gotten a Master of Fine Arts in writing or been more connected to a writing group, that would have saved me some time."