We have an occasional feature here at Mad Padre called Language Play of the Week. Actually it’s more like Language Play of the Quarter but I digress. Every now and then I come across a passage that makes me say “Wow, Writer Dude, you totally nailed that.” OK, that last phrase wasn’t especially felicitous, but you get my point.
I’ve just finished Ben Fountain’s novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a satirical take on America and the so-called War on Terror (what do we cal the wars of the last eleven years – surely there is a better title?).
The prose is magnificent, excessive, scaled up to Fountain’s subject, which is the lavish power and wealth and emptyheadedness of America and his rage about it. I could cite so many passages where I was left stunned by the language. This one comes at the book’s climax, when a group of young US soldiers, instant YouTube heroes of the Iraq war, are feted at the halftime show of a Dallas Cowboys game. Be warned that the language here is rough.
“Such an unholy barrage of noise pours forth that Billy thinks he might be lifted off his feet. It is a dam bursting, bridges collapsing at rush hour, tsunamis of killer froth and boulder-sized debris revising the contours of the known world. Just assume you’re going to die, so they were instructed the week before deploying to Iraq. Affirmative! Roger that! Sir yes sir! Carnage awaits us, we are the ones who will not be saved, the poor sad doomed honourably fucked front line who will fight them over there so as not to fight them here! A harsh thing for any young man to hear, but this is a part of every youth’s education in the world, learning the risks that are never fully revealed until you commit. Destiny’s Child is really laying into the strut, they could be wading through a storm surge up to their waists, goddam, so how is he supposed to redeploy with such sights in his head? Within days, no, hours, Bravo is back in the shit and he’s waiting for them to say it again, he dreads it but the harsh words need to be said, you’re going to die, just get that part of it over with please, but no, no one will do it, they get Beyonce and her mouthwatering ass instead!
Maybe it’s not supposed to make sense. Or maybe not for you, Billy reasons, because you are a duh-umb shit. Then they turn, he’s missed the hash mark by half a beat, the Drill grunts razor-sharp on the mark while Bravo flops around like loose shoelaces. “Change step march,” Day woofs sotto voce; as team leader he’s responsible for getting them through halftime with some semblance of their dignity intact, and now he counts time with the Drill grunts, trying to shoehorn the Bravos into lockstep. “Left, left,”, the mantra settles Billy’s mind and his feet start to follow, though it would help if he had a weapon in his hands. Just ahead are the Rots [ROTC students], a herd of shambling big-assed kids, many of them no doubt older than Billy and yet they look so young from the back, their soft, fleshy, baby- fat necks practically screaming for the sacrificial ax to come down.
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