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The Binger of Books

I am a slow reader, and even slower blogger. That said, I can go into bouts of frenzied reading that can last for weeks. And then nothing. Hence the name Binger of Books.

Currently reading

Dust to Dust: A Memoir
Benjamin Busch
SPOILER ALERT!

Chapter Review/Rant: Money Makes Us Real

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain

I'm on the last two chapters where Bravo have gone into negotiations on the film rights with some Hollywood shark (Norm Oglesby?). I've been confused as to who is who and what exactly they're doing there. I thought Albert was the Hollywood guy, but he's just some agent.

 

There was no actual work up to this meeting, and no talk between the soldiers about the details of the deal, besides a lot of jokes about Hillary Swank. Why not? Are young men incapable of serious thought? The stereotypes live on. It seems it just came out of nowhere. Looks as if Fountain didn't know how to end this or where the story (if you can call it that) was going in the first place.

 

The whole scene was pretty farcical and unbelievable. I thought it was bad, but this chapter pretty much solidified everything I said in my initial review. Who does the negotiating? Albert the experienced agent? No, of course not, it goes to Sargent Dime, an infantryman who fights terrorist. Even though the deal isn't done, Norm clearly establishes whose boss. Fountain makes victims of the soldiers, and everyone around them is there to use them and take advantage. This is a pretty lame metaphor for the war itself. I don't mind metaphors, but this was really badly done. Up until now, the main villains have been the Hollywood sharks and a couple of rich Texas businessmen. Fountain then gives us another layer of nonsense:

"It's pretty incredible," he says. "they've gotten your chain of command involved. Apparently Norm's good buddies with the deputy-deputy secretary of defense or some such crap, he had that guy call your superiors at Fort Hood. He says he talked to General Ruthven? And the general's supposed to call here in a couple of minutes, to talk to you." Albert shakes his head; his voice wavers. "I think they're going to make you do the deal." He looks at them. "Can they even do that?"

By the end of the chapter Sgt. Dime gets off the phone with the General, but what is said is never revealed. Just that the General is from some place where they hate the Dallas Cowboys. Nuff Said. It might as well never happened. In the last chapter, Fountain gives us no reaction to this news from any of the soldiers, with attention spans to rival a 4 year old with ADD, they are all too preoccupied by the swag bags they're given. There it is again, the soldiers are painted as naive dumb victims being done over by someone more powerful who knows someone more rich, whose loyal customers are dumb as fuck. Well done Fountain, repetitive to the fucking end. Blah blah blah.

 

 

Billy Lynns Long Half Time Walk Review

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain

These are the main impressions I got from the book:

 

1) Fountain seemed to be so overly preoccupied with trying to sound like a modern 19 year old male, that he forgot he was actually writing a book.

 

2) Fountains own voice and opinion is so heavily laid on, he practically drowned out the characters and the story itself. The book became a vehicle for a very tedious, repetitive rant.

 

3) Nobody understands soldiers; nobody can understand what they've gone through. Ever. So don't even go there. We are all so unworthy, everyone should be ashamed.

 

4) Everyone they meet is completely clueless about the war and has the sophistication of a 7 year old kid.

 

Its scathing portrait of the excesses of capitalism and the shallow materialism of modern American culture are all worthy, and I share many of his views. But his writing is so heavy handed and contrived, he ends up saying very little past the obvious and clichéd. I was searching for some humanity in it all, something that said something about all of us in the grand scheme of things. But he just wanted to point fingers at the usual villains: the rich, the powerful, the dumb and numb, without much perception, insight or wit.

 

The third person prose throughout the book was obviously Fountains own deeply cynical voice, but this never really made much sense against Billie’s feelings and thoughts which were much more wondering and ambiguous. This weird juxtaposition just confused things.

 

Fountain accuses modern society of being unthinking and shallow, but he treats the characters in his book with the same shallowness, concentrating on the superficial. The young soldiers are never given the space to develop as characters so they all kind of melded into one two dimensional blob. They are more than masters of the profane and the put-down, more than tanked up horn dogs. But we never really get to know them individually.

 

I get it, he was using stereotypes to make a point, but I thought that was the very thing Fountain was arguing against; against shallowness. It didn't work for me. His exquisitely formed prose put-downs reminded me of the cheap shots politicians throw at each other, using the same language to gain points. Even if the arguments made may actually be relevant and true, everyone is sullied by it, their arguments lessened and so are they.

 

The book began well enough but it gradually disintegrated into a meandering mess that lacked any kind of pace and clarity of thought. I'm just short of finishing this (hard slog!) but I give it a generous a half star and that's just for the interesting premise. I've minused the rest for the epically missed opportunity. It's not good enough to simply support a book just because you support the ideas it contains – now that would be shallow of me.

War Babies By Frederick Busch - Half Way Review

War Babies - Frederick Busch

Almost half way through and I've gone from 2 stars to 4 out of 5. The more I get to know these characters the more I appreciate the book.

 

The first scene with Peter and his mother was quite confusing yet intriguing at the same time. You know when you've dropped into a conversation between two people who have known each other for a long time? There's a secret language, specific references completely unique to them, that you will never really understand. This is the feeling I got from both Peter and his mother, and also strangely between Peter and Hilary. Even though they had just met, I got the underlying feeling that there was a mutually shared pain and sadness. The strange, disjointed and choppy (as Serena described it)  conversations between Peter and Hilary at first were confusing. But then I started reading between the lines, it wasn't so much as what was actually said but the strange way it was expressed - going from blunt and to the point, then straight to random trivia, and even the quickness of them sleeping together. Nothing seems to be said yet everything is said (just not in the way convention would allow). I've known a few people like this in my time, so maybe if you've never met anyone like these characters, they would just confound you!

 

Some will find the characters hard to read and even harder to sympathize with. But for me, these are the most interesting characters because everything isn't always revealed directly, and they don't fit neatly into a 'likeable' two dimensional character (everyone has a dark side!). Busch seems to know people very well, maybe too well.

 

I feel this is an emotional book. I'm not sure how to describe it or if that even makes any sense. What people say literally isn't necessarily in sync with what they feel. All three seem to be lost and wondering souls. Fox has given in to his demons and, I would say, is a product of his time. I thought Hilary was alot older than Peter, but maybe that's because her experiences have made her cynical of the world and that pain she's been carrying around has aged her. Peter seems on the surface less affected, but is still troubled by the shadow of his father. I think the way he is almost led by Hilary, in conversation and into bed reveals he is vulnerable. But it is mutual, and I think Peter knows it deep down. I liked the playful tete-a-tete they had in the garden, they almost seemed like an old married couple!

 

The 'mystery' of what exactly happened in Korea is almost secondary to how these characters are coping with the aftermath. These are the war babies after all, and even Fox had to come back and live his life forever changed by his experience.

 

Looking forward to seeing where this is going...

 

PS Sorry you guys are finding this a confusing and frustrating read, hope I've given you a different perspective. Comments welcomed:)