Most of our summer Turnrow 20 titles are in stock now, with just a few books awaiting publication in early July. Already we have a front-running bestseller, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, also the first book we selected for this list of our favorite new (and a few older) books.
The book was published back in the spring but has amassed a following over the months thanks to several well-timed, rave reviews from critics and readers, as well as a glowing blurb from Karl Marlantes (Matterhorn), who called the novel "the Catch-22 of the Iraq War." We found it a fitting comparison, as Billy Lynn embodies a similar rascally spirit and is propelled by rich satire. In the end, of course, this novel is about so much more than war.
In fact, we only visit the Iraqi battlefield in a few quick flashbacks. The primary setting of the novel, which occurs in real time, is a Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys football game. Sitting in the stands are the young men of Bravo Squad, whose heroics were captured on camera by Fox News imbeds. After their famous firefight, the soldiers were brought home and toured around on a whirlwind public relations blitz to bolster support for the war, and it's at the end of this jag that we find them as special guests, choreographed into the halftime show by Destiny's Child.
Over the course of four quarters we come to know these men, their pasts and passions — one Specialist William Lynn in particular — and witness the full spectacle of their patriotic reception. All the while a veteran movie producer escorts them behind the scenes and into lavish press-box parties, fielding calls from Hollywood as their future (back to war?) hangs in the balance.
Fountain captures the surreality of this spectacle through his incendiary prose, a colorful melange of street slang, barracks profanity, pop references and startling, dead-center social insights, bound up in bursts of exclamatory dialogue and internal realizations from Billy Lynn. Here's a taste, from a scene where the boys visit the Cowboys' locker room:
Back in the locker room the players have almost finished suiting up. The air is a pungent casserole of plastics, b.o., farts, melon-woody colognes, and the rancid-licorice reek of petroleum liniments. Norm stands on a chair in the center of the room and calls Bravo to him, then instructs the team to circle around. Bravo has heard its quota of speeches today but here comes another, what can you do. The players dutifully approach, and as they assemble here in the middle of the room Billy ponders the vast systems that support these athletes. They are among the best-cared-for creatures in the history of the planet, beneficiaries of the best nutrition, the latest technologies, the finest medical care, they live at the very pinnacle of American innovation and abundance, which inspires an extraordinary thought — send them to fight the war! Send them just as they are this moment, well rested, suited up, psyched for brutal combat, send the entire NFL! Attack with all our bears and raiders, our ferocious redskins, our jets, eagles, falcons, chiefs, patriots, cowboys — how could a bunch of skinny hajjis in man-skirts and sandals stand a chance against these all-Americans? Resistance is futile, oh Arab foes. Surrender now and save yourself a world of hurt, for our mighty football players cannot be stopped, they are so huge, so strong, so fearsomely ripped that mere bombs and bullets bounce off their bones of steel. Submit, lest our awesome NFL show you straight to the flaming gates of hell!
After reading this excellent novel, we were curious about Ben Fountain, who we first learned about in Malcolm Gladwell's 2008 New Yorker article on late-blooming genius. We were glad to see the former attorney turned prized fiction writer (check out his story collection Brief Encounters with Che Guevara next) was traveling through Mississippi on booktour and so we convinced him to stop by for a visit.
A North Carolina native and long-time resident of Dallas, Ben was one of the most charming and gracious writers to ever pass through. He lunched with us on the backporch and described the martini-fueled Thanksgiving in 2004 when he witnessed the real-life, fateful football game that gave him the idea for Billy Lynn. He got to know several young soldiers before finding the voice for this novel, which is simply one of the freshest we've heard in years.
We're down to just a few signed first editions, so order at our website or write to get your hands on this remarkable debut novel.