Preston Hollow resident Ben Fountain’s novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk was a finalist for National Book Award, National Book Critics’ Circle Award, won the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, just to name a few. The American-war novel even made Esquire’s list of Best Books of All Time (for men, but I’m not a man, and I am still obsessed with it). It would be a gross understatement to say it was well received.
And now, it’s a movie, directed by Oscar winner Ang Lee and starring newcomer Joe Alwyn as 19-year-old private BillyLynn.
It tells the story of Billy and his fellow soldiers of the Bravo Squad, home as war heroes following a traumatic battle in Iraq — their “victory tour” ends with a featured place at halftime of a Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game at Texas Stadium. The real story about what occurred in the Middle East, however, is revealed through flashbacks.
Fountain has earned, in addition to the aforementioned awards, the Barnes & Noble Discover Award, Whiting Writers Award, O. Henry Prize … two Pushcart Prizes … been published in Harper’s, The Paris Review, Zoetrope: All-Story and New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best … The Wall Street Journal, Texas Monthly, The New York Times … New York Times Sunday Magazine … and his reporting on post-earthquake Haiti was nationally broadcast on the radio show This American Life. (Let the ellipses indicate I am surely missing some mentions). But his road to this particular success, of which he spoke at a conference I attended, makes him really interesting. It began way back in the 80s.
Fountain was an attorney at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Field when he developed an undesirable urge to write. He’d taken a class or two in college. He started writing after work. That was unacceptable and counterproductive, so he quit.His job at the firm, that is.
“I was tremendously apprehensive … like I’d stepped off a cliff not knowing if the parachute would open,” Fountain told Gladwell.
In the first year, he developed a strict writing regimen for himself and did not stall. He worked hard. Sold a couple of stories. Received excellent reviews from esteemed critics. Kept plugging away.
Even so, he told Gladwell, for every magazine piece or story he was able to sell, he received at least 30 rejections.
Some 18 years after he first decided to write, Fountain finally Arrived.
“The ‘young’ writer from the provinces took the literary world by storm at the age of forty-eight.”.
When Billy Lynn came out, the Morning News ran a Q&A with Fountain. “His attempts at reconciling the multiple gaps between the war and the American way,” the News explains, “animate these pages.”
Here’s hoping Mr. Lee does the material justice.