"They mash in close, push and shove, grab at his arms and talk too loud, and sometimes they break wind, so propulsive is their stress. After two solid weeks of public events Billy continues to be amazed at the public response, the raw wavering voices and frenzied speech patterns, the gibberish spilled from the mouths of seemingly well-adjusted citizens. We appreciate, they say, their voices throbbing like a lovers." (p. 37)
Billy, the title character of the novel Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is with the rest of Bravo squad
("though technically, there's no such thing as Bravo squad. They are Bravo Company, second platoon, first squad, said squad being comprised of teams alpha and bravo, but the Fox embed christened them Bravo squad and thus they were presented to the world." (p. 4))at a Dallas Cowboys pregame. Not too far into the book, I know there was some brave rescue the squad made and now they are on a two week victory lap around the US getting maximum publicity for themselves, the war, and President Bush. There's even a movie deal being worked during this chilly afternoon in Dallas.
In the opening quote, they are sitting in their seats when their names are flashed on the Jumbotron. People come up to them to connect with the soldiers before they go back to complete the last 11 months of their deployment in Iraq.
"No one spits, no one calls him baby-killer. On the contrary, people could not be more supportive or kindlier disposed, yet Billy finds these encounters weird and frightening all the same. There's something harsh in his fellow Americans, avid , ecstatic, a burning that comes of the deepest need. That's his sense of it, they all need something from him, this pack of half-rich lawyers, dentists, soccer moms, and corporate VPs, they're all gnashing for a piece of a barely grown grunt making $14,000 a year. For these adult, affluent people he is mere petty cash in their personal accounting, yet they lose it when they enter his personal space. They tremble. They breathe in fitful stinky huffs. Their eyes skitz and quiver with the force of the moment, because here, finally, up close and personal, is the war made flesh, an actual point of contact after all the months and years of reading about the war, watching the war on TV, hearing the war flogged and flacked on talk radio. It's been hard times in America - how did we get this way?" (p. 38)
It seemed like an appropriate quote for Memorial Day, the day we honor the war dead, the idea of war and of sending soldiers around the world to protect democracy at home.
Ben Fountain's novel, which looks like it's all going to take place at the football game, is starting to paint a different picture of that adoration. As the afternoon progresses, we get flashbacks to Iraq and the incident that made them heroes and gave them this two week reprieve from living on the edge of death. (Two of their squad didn't make it home alive already.)
So far this book explores Americans' need to see these soldiers as heroes, their own need to fill some void in their own lives. And to fill that need, they see the soldiers into their own narrative of American greatness protected from the evil outside world by these brave soldiers. A narrative that is clearly different from the one playing in Billy's head.
Here's a New York Times review - which I haven't read because I want to finish the book first - to get another take on this book.
[UPDATE: I've put up a second post on the book here.]