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Archive for the tag “in the stacks”

in the stacks | billy lynn’s long halftime walk

marines

A couple of years ago, I got pretty close to a group of Marines stationed in Iwakuni, Japan. My girlfriend was talking to one of them, you know, romantically, and he asked her to the annual Marine Corps Ball. She accepted, and he set me up on a blind date to the same ball with his best friend. The ball turned into an after party, and the after party turned into all night dancing in Hiroshima, and all night dancing turned into a 7am train ride back home. In this one night, Callie and I spent 12 hours with these guys. I learned more about the men behind the uniforms than I ever expected.

In between celebratory drinks and boys cutting in for another dance, these guys opened up to me about their fears, mindsets on America’s wars, duty to their country, and what I mean to them as an American citizen. Every one of these guys, alone, away from their friends, told me in their own words that their life is less than mine, that they exist so I can teach safely in Japan, so I can go home to America and feel safe in my house and neighborhood. They had their own opinions on the Marine Corps – it’s harsh, brutal, but a brotherhood stronger than blood. The ferocity in their eyes when they told me, over and over, they’d die for each other and would never leave a brother’s side, no matter what they faced – well, it scared me a little, but it also humbled me. These men and women, our troops, are soldiers. And that means something to them.

I was reminded of this experience while reading Ben Fountain’s bestselling novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a novel about the heroic Bravo Squad, back in the US from Iraq for a short media-intensive tour after a video of them in a ferocious firefight goes viral. The entire novel takes place in the Dallas Cowboys stadium, where the Bravos are invited to attend a game. Billy Lynn is 19-years-old, and has a massive hangover from partying the night before. As the novel opens, all he wants is some Advil that everyone is too busy to get for him.

As his headache wears on, exacerbated by the lights and sounds in the stadium, we’re taken back in short snippets to the firefight that brought him here. We experience Billy’s PTSD terror alongside him – the lights are being ambushed in Iraq, the sound of the players warming up kicking are shots that he can’t stop, the frenzy of the pre-game activity is him on a battlefield, moving through the chaos without thought, relying on his training.

In the time span of one Dallas Cowboys game, Billy hobnobs with the team’s wealthy owner and his colleagues, a Hollywood producer that’s determined to make the Bravos’s story into a mega-hit at the box office, and in the midst of it all, falls hopelessly in love.

Like the Marine friends I made, Billy’s thoughts are complicated and nuanced and intense. He questions the Army, America’s role in Iraq, his life and existence, what he could be when, or if, he returns. He’s thoughtful and bright. Above all else, he always comes back to what it means to be a soldier. To be a soldier, a brother, a member of the Bravo Squad means something to Billy. Being a soldier is an intrinsic part of his identity, and his search to understand what that means is why the novel and the Marines left such an impact on me.

billy lynn

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in the stacks | The Last Werewolf & Talulah Rising

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Full moons make me want to do a few things: read in an over-sized chair, or under covers against mounds of pillows on my bed; hike with only the moon as my light; and fear my transition into a werewolf.

Well, that last one hasn’t happened. Yet. But it could, and if it did, I know that it will be painful. Jake, the werewolf, taught me that.

Several months ago – I guess we’re talking 6 or 8, I read Glen Duncan’s novel, The Last Werewolf, on recommendation of a close friend with a great literary palette. I scrunched up my face when she suggested it. Why would I read a werewolf novel? I (1) curl up in the fetal position, plug my ears and hum if someone so much as jumps out of an unexposed place in a movie, and (2) am as interested in science fiction as I am physics. Which is to say, only when I’m watching The Big Bang Theory.

But Mel, my friend, said, “Trust me,” and I did. And holy crap, werewolves are AWESOME. At least in Glen Duncan’s world.

The Last Werewolf tells the story of Jake, a philanthropic man of considerable wealth with a proclivity for eating humans when the full moon strikes. He never intended to become a werewolf. He found himself in need of shelter in the 1700s and stumbled into a small cottage. An attractive woman took care of him, and in the process, turned him.

The novel opens with Jake knowing that he is the last known live werewolf. An evil clan wants to exterminate all werewolves and comes after him. He flees, and takes the reader with him on his adventure. The great twist of the novel comes when he meets the love of his life, Talullah, a female werewolf that no one, not even Jake, knew existed. They negotiate their love against the moral qualm of killing and the physical necessity of it. Their dialogue, action sequences and love story take the reader to a place I never expected – belief. I believed their story, and I fell into it as hard as they fell in love with each other. When I closed the last page of the novel, I wanted more.

Thankfully, Glen Duncan is giving us more in his new sequel, Tallulah Rising.

I’ve ordered the novel, but I haven’t read it yet. In fact, I had almost forgotten about Jake and Tallulah and the controversial sub-genre in which they live, until I stole out of my apartment one evening last week, a bottle of wine in hand, and got caught in the gaze of a full moon.

I could almost hear Jake’s notoriously long-winded thoughts and 19th century speech and demeanor coming through his words, and Tallulah’s laughter bringing him down from a philosophical wandering. I suddenly couldn’t wait to get my hands on my copy of Tallulah Rising and find out what happens next in this dark tale of moon-crossed lovers.

I’ll report on that one just as soon as I – (page turn).

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