Study Guide

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk Brotherhood

By Ben Fountain

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He'd say "I love you" to every man in the squad before rolling out, say it straight, with no joking or smart-ass lilt and no warbly Christian smarm in it either, just that brisk declaration like he was tightening the seat belts around everyone's soul. Then other Bravos started saying it but they hedged at first, blatting "I love you man" in the tearful desperate voice of the schmuck in the Budweiser ad, but as the hits piled up and every trip outside the wire became an exercise in the full pucker, nobody was playing anymore. (Virtue.56)

Shroom's like the Yoda of Bravo Company. His unabashed expression of his love for his fellow Bravos made him unique, because it showed strength of self that many of those kids hadn't achieved yet. But when push came to shove, after they'd really been through some stuff together, the rest of Bravo finally jumped on board Shroom's love boat.

"Listen, you see these men?" Dime gestures around the table. "I love every one of these mutts like a brother, I bet I love them more than their mommas even, but I'll tell you frankly, and they know how I feel so I can say this right in front of them, but just for the record, this is the most murdering bunch of psychopaths you'll ever see. I don't know how they were before the Army got them, but you give them a weapons system and a couple of Ripped Fuels and they'll blast the hell out of anything that moves. Isn't that right, Bravo?"

They answer instantly, with gusto, Yes, Sergeant! (Virtue.85)

Does a violent nature necessarily conflict with feelings of fraternal love? We don't know—ask Butch and Sundance, or Whitey Bulger and his brother William, or Wolverine and Sabretooth….

By then Dime was weeping too, both of them hacking, gagging on snot, covered in mud and blood and sweat as if they'd just that moment climbed gasping and retching from some elemental pit of primordial sludge. I knew it would be you, Dime was hissing over and over, his mouth a butane torch in Billy's ear, I knew it would be you, I knew it I knew it I so f***ing knew it I am so f***ing goddamn proud of you, then he grabbed Billy's face in both his hands and kissed him full on the lips like a stomp, a whack with a rubber mallet. […] You couldn't put this in a movie and have people understand, not based on any movie Billy's ever seen. If you could, then he'd say, Okay, put it in, he could give a flying f*** if people think it's gay, but it would have to be done with real shrewdness and skill…(Virtue.97)

Just because two guys kiss, that doesn't make them gay. Duh. Billy and Dime were both in an emotionally heightened firefight. Their buddy is dead. Billy quite possibly saved everyone's lives. A kiss is the least thing Dime could do to express his gratitude and relief in such a situation.

He pretty much ignored them all, and that night it struck Billy as never before how completely they were all bound up in one another. You can deny him, he thought, watching his father across the table. You can hate him, love him, pity him, never speak to or look him in the eye again, never deign even to be in his crabbed and bitter presence, but you're still stuck with the son of a b****. One way or another he'll always be your daddy, not even all-powerful death was going to change that. (Bully.20)

That's family for you, eh? You can't pick 'em, and you can't kill 'em. Wait. No. It's "you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose." No. That's not it, either. "Family: can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em." Yeah. That's it. There ya go.

But this was enough, just chilling on a warm Indian-summer day, a sweet abeyance in the golden tone of the light and nothing to do but sit in lawn chairs or sprawl on blankets and let the morning lazily take its course. Two years ago Billy couldn't have done this, the very notion of family time would have sent him running down the street tearing off his clothes. I am a changed man, Billy solemnly told himself. (Bully.82)

What is it about family time that seems like torture? Sure, as a teenager you're practically required to hate your family—it's like a rite of passage—but even as adults, forced-family-fun time can be a killer. Just think about every overwrought holiday event you've ever been to, and you know that at least one person wanted to run down the street naked. Well…okay. Maybe just we did.

You'd think family would be the one sure thing in life, the gimme? Points you got just for being born? So much thick, meaty stuff bound you to these people, so many interlocking spirals of history, genetics, common cause, and struggle that it should be the most basic of all drives, that you would strive to protect and love one another, yet this bond that should be the big no-brainer was in fact the hardest thing. For proof all you had to do was take a quick poll of Bravo. On Holliday's last visit home before shipping out, his brother told him, I hope you f***in' die in Iraq. When Mango was fifteen his father cracked his skull with a monkey wrench, and Mrs. Mango's comment was, So maybe now you'll stop pissing your father off. Dime's grandfather and one of his uncles were suicides. Lake's mother was an OxyContin addict who'd done time, his father a dealer who ditto. When Crack was eleven years old his mother ran off with the assistant pastor of their church. Shroom, he barely had a family. A-bort's father had been the deadbeat poster dad for the state of Louisiana, and Sykes's father and brothers blew up their house cooking meth.

Yes, family was key, Billy decided. If you could figure out how to live with family then you'd gone a long way toward finding your peace, but for that, the finding, the figuring out, you needed a strategy. So where did you go for that?

Whoa. And we thought that having the TV taken away when we were grounded for sneaking out past curfew was rough.

What cards these Bravos are, what a grab-ass band of brothers. Okay, so maybe they aren't the greatest generation by anyone's standard, but they are surely the best of the bottom third percentile of their own somewhat muddled and suspect generation. (S***ty Movie.67)

Band of Brothers is a book by Stephen Ambrose and an equally amazing miniseries done by HBO in 2001. It chronicles the heroics and tragedies of Easy Company in WWII, and it shows some fine examples of human beings. Those men were part of what our country considers the "Greatest Generation," and to compare them with these horny, foul-mouthed, downtrodden kids is exactly what Fountain wants us to do.

Even harder was describing his sense that Shroom's death might have ruined him for anything else, because when he died? when I felt his soul pass right through me? I loved him so much right then, I don't think I can ever have that kind of love for anybody again. So what was the point of getting married, having kids, raising a family if you knew you couldn't give them your very best love? (Walk.7)

Poor kid. To think that all your love has been used up by the age of 19 is pretty dang depressing. But there's something to it: this is an experience of such naked reality that the fakeness of much everyday American life just can't really compete.

Rrrraaahhhhhxxxx-annnnnn, Sykes is screeching at the tops of his lungs, you don't have to, then he turns and starts chattering to the fans in row 8 about how much he loves the Bravos, hell yes he loves his boys like brothers, he's just a poor white dumbass from Coon Cove, Florida, but at least he's got the Army, hooah! (Vampires.20)

It's great that these guys can so openly express their love for each other. Okay, so Sykes is high as a kite on Valium, but maybe war does that to people. Maybe it makes you see and do the more important things in life, like telling people you love them without a hint of irony or shame.

He indulges in another episode of the ranch fantasy, but now while he and Faison are having sex ten times a day he's also thinking about Bravo back at FOB Viper, getting slammed every time they go outside the wire. So he puts that inside the fantasy, how much he'd miss his fellow Bravos, he would mourn them even as they live and breathe. They are his boys, his brothers. Bravos would die for one another. They are the truest friends he will ever have, and he'd expire from grief and guilt at not being there with them. (Proud.60)

This is more than duty: this is love. Billy loves his brothers, and that's going to be the only thing that stops him from abandoning them in order to save his own skin. How many times can you say you've felt that way about anybody? And why is the Army so successful in creating these bonds between people from all different backgrounds, colors, and beliefs, when it seems like everywhere else we fail?

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