Bravo was given two nights and a day to visit their families several days before Thanksgiving. Billy went home to Stovall, where his father, Ray, drives around the house in his motorized wheelchair—and according to Kathryn, Ray does nothing but grunt when he wants something. Ray had once been a radio DJ, but after September 11, he was forced to quit. He worked odd jobs and kept apartments in Dallas, and Billy loathed the way that Ray could go from berating him in the foulest of language to talking on his cell in a happy, upbeat voice. Ray soon dedicated himself to becoming a right-wing radio host, and he subjected his family to rants about conservative issues. Patty, Billy's oldest sister, deemed Ray "America's Prick."
These early descriptions of Ray illustrate the reasons why Billy clings so tightly to Shroom and his positive mentorship, as Ray was evidently verbally abusive and cruel to his entire family. As a DJ and a wannabe talk radio host, Ray is complicit in the Fantasy Industrial Complex, as he was one of the many people responsible for mediating the public's engagement with the world.
Ray spent his days watching Fox News, listening to conservative radio, and smoking until the day he suffered a double stroke. Now, only Billy's mother, Denise, and Kathryn understand Ray, though he seldom speaks. The family secret remains unspoken: everyone aside from Ray enjoys that he can no longer talk. It's a relief, and it very nearly makes up for the years he kept an apartment in the city, had numerous extramarital affairs, and apparently fathered a daughter and now owes child support.
As a whole, the novel affords a great deal of power to those who speak—from Cheney and Albert to Norm Oglesby later on. Ray's inability to speak signals his loss of power, which also corresponds to a lack of privacy and subsequent dehumanization as his wife and children find out about his second secret life and punish him for it.
Ray is impossible to please, and Billy realizes that he won't even be able to impress Ray with the fact that Billy is a national hero when he arrives home. Denise cries, as do Kathryn, Patty, and Patty's toddler son, Brian—but Ray only glances up from the TV when he notices Billy. Billy stands in the doorway and comments on Ray's suave appearance in a way that drives Ray mad, though Ray says nothing.
Even though Ray has no power to say anything to hurt Billy, Ray still has the power to hurt Billy in other ways. By not acknowledging Billy at all, Ray denies both his son's heroism and his humanity, as well as Billy's desire for connection and emotional intimacy.
Later, Denise prepares a "perfect" dinner. Ray promptly turns up the volume on Bill O'Reilly all the way and chain smokes through dinner. He ignores his family as they talk to and about him, and Billy is struck by the realization that even though the rest of the family can hate or ignore Ray, he will always be a part of them. Denise technically attends to Ray's needs, but she does so slowly and with a passive-aggressive air. When she mentions that "that woman" called earlier, Patty and Kathryn shriek and tell Denise to hang up on her next time. They don't even acknowledge that they're speaking about Ray's lover right in front of him, and they joke that Denise should tell the woman that she can care for Ray.
Ray clearly wants to live in the fantasy world of the twenty-four-hour news cycle rather than in the real world of his family, and it's hard to blame him—his family is objectively cruel to him, deserved or not. This shows how the fantasy of the media offers individuals a way to escape and exist somewhere else. In addition, this passage also reinforces the fact that Billy's family life is exceptionally dysfunctional. Even if Shroom did criticize Billy for a time, he came around and became Billy's greatest mentor, something that it seems Ray never did.
After dinner, Billy drops his things in his childhood bedroom and masturbates several times throughout the evening and night. In the morning, Ray overturns the coffee pot and then heads for the living room and Fox News. As Denise, Patty, and Kathryn clean up the mess, Billy asks if Ray truly watches Fox all day. They just look at him.
By refusing outright to live in the real world, Ray forces the rest of his family to inhabit the real world against their will. He knows full well they're bound up in their responsibility to care for him, showing that he has a far more sinister view of family than they do.
When the mess is cleaned up, Billy takes Brian outside. Billy is shocked to find that he doesn't find Brian boring. Rather, Billy is enchanted by Brian's curiosity about everything in the backyard. As Billy chases Brian, it suddenly crosses his mind that the idea of "the sanctity of life" is encapsulated in Brian's little body. Billy groans as he realizes that children just like Brian die in the war, but he quickly tells himself to compartmentalize his thoughts and think about it later.
Experiences like this make the war suddenly and vividly real for Billy, making it much harder for him to continue to think of war as something absurd and nonsensical. Further, by connecting dying Iraqi children to his nephew, Billy is forced to recognize fully that the "enemy" is made up of children just like Brian, who are similarly innocent and curious about the world around them.
Patty comes outside to hang out with Billy and Brian. She lights a cigarette and answers questions about her husband, and Billy notices that his once-lithe sister now seems mellow and heavy. Billy admits that he'd rather stay in Stovall than redeploy, and Patty asks him how it feels to be famous. She and Billy discuss Billy's less-than-stellar reputation in Stovall, and Billy wonders if he went crazy after being confined in school too long. Patty tells Billy that the entire family is proud of him, and when Billy says that Ray isn't proud, Patty insists that Ray is, he just doesn't know how to show it.
Patty's insistence that Ray is proud of Billy suggests that Patty might view Ray in a kinder, more human way than the rest of the family. Given Billy's musings on what age and the war are doing to him, it's possible that for Patty, having a son and building a family of her own has allowed her to view her father in a more generous light.
Patty asks Billy if he's heard about the house. She explains that Denise wants to take a loan out on the house to pay off Ray and Kathryn's medical bills, but if Denise files for bankruptcy instead, she'd be able to keep the house and wipe out the medical bills. Patty continues that Denise cares too much what other people would think if she declared bankruptcy. Patty also says that some people around town say that the Lynn family has had so much trouble because they don't pray hard enough.
The novel obliquely suggests that "keeping up with the Joneses," as Denise wants to do, is a consequence of the Fantasy Industrial Complex. This shows that the Complex affects everything, from the way that people think about world events to the way they think about their role and reputation in their community.
Kathryn appears and fetches beers for Patty and Billy, and the three of them sit outside with Brian. During the afternoon, several neighbors stop by with food and to thank Billy for his service. Kathryn eventually pins Billy's Purple Heart to one breast and his Silver Star to the other, which scandalizes Denise and sends Billy into fits of laughter. Kathryn refuses to take them off and is still wearing them when Mr. Whaley, Denise's boss, arrives. Mr. Whaley is very obviously astounded at Kathryn's leggy, tanned body and he does a poor job of hiding his attraction.
The fact that Denise is scandalized by Kathryn’s joke suggests that Denise believes the awards truly mean something. Billy, on the other hand, can find the humor in this because he understands that while the awards are certainly appreciated, they do little to actually improve Billy's quality of life as a soldier. By extension, this also shows that even though the war directly affects Denise, she believes these awards are enough to support the troops.
Denise and Mr. Whaley join the Lynn children outside, and Mr. Whaley asks Billy about the war and his reception on the Victory Tour. Mr. Whaley struggles to keep his eyes off of Kathryn, who follows the conversation intently. Mr. Whaley offers to put Billy in touch with his lawyer to review the movie contract and tells Billy that Stovall will put on a parade next time Billy is home. As Mr. Whaley continues to praise Billy's heroism, Kathryn bluntly points out that Billy has to go back to Iraq and might die. When Mr. Whaley insists he'll pray for Billy, Kathryn snarls and goes inside. Mr. Whaley tries to smooth the situation by asking about Kathryn's next surgery and mentioning that it's been a hard year for the Lynn family.
Like thanking a soldier for his or her service, saying that he'll pray is an easy and expected sentiment that allows Mr. Whaley to feel good about "supporting the troops." The parade falls into this category as well, since it would only recognize Billy's service, not actually do anything to improve his quality of life or help him make it through the war alive. Because Mr. Whaley is better off than the Lynns, however, he can get away with promising expensive parades and no actual support.
Mr. Whaley offers Billy a job in the oil fields upon his return, and Billy feels as though he might actually accept what he knows would be a minimum-wage job, assuming he makes it out of the war intact. Billy realizes, however, that Mr. Whaley is nothing compared to the rich people that Billy met on the tour. On Thanksgiving Day, Billy realizes that Mr. Whaley is a peon to the rich and powerful at the stadium, while Billy is a peon to Mr. Whaley—and little more than a speck of dust to the richest in Texas.
Though offering Billy a job is a true kindness that might allow Billy to make a life for himself later, the fact that it's minimum wage is cutting commentary on how Americans treat soldiers poorly upon their return from warzones. This job would put him in a similar situation as Hector, the stadium waiter who wants to join the Army to better provide for his family.
After lunch, Billy returns to the backyard and naps. He dreams that he's riding a parade float, but he sees Shroom at the back of the crowd saluting and knows that Shroom is dead. Billy finally lunges awake to find Kathryn leaning over him and breathing in his face. She's wearing a bikini, and the sight of her rouses Billy, even if she is his sister. Kathryn threateningly tells Billy that he has to come home, or she'll kill herself, stating that she's responsible for sending Billy to Iraq in the first place. Kathryn points out the dark absurdity that Mr. Whaley wants to throw a parade when Billy might die, and Billy considers the changes that Kathryn has undergone since her accident. While she used to be a wholesome Christian girl, she's now lean, scarred, and throws around insults regularly.
Billy's attraction to Kathryn is another way in which the novel shows that Billy's family situation is dysfunctional; his attraction is subversive and "not supposed to happen," just as Ray isn't "supposed" to be such a distant, mean father. Though the questions that Kathryn asks next indicate that she doesn't truly understand what the war is like, she does fully recognize the absurdity and the hypocrisy in how the country treats its soldiers. Further, her guilt is her way of showing loyalty to Billy.
Kathryn hands Billy another beer and asks about the tour. Billy deflects, and Kathryn admits she's going crazy in Stovall. She insists there are no boys and mentions that she should be graduated and wealthy by now. Her final two surgeries are scheduled for spring, and in the meantime, she's enrolled in community college to stave off student loan penalty interest. Kathryn notes that everyone, herself included, is politically conservative until they get sick and realize that their insurance companies will screw them, and nothing is there to protect them. Billy suggests that Kathryn didn't pray hard enough.
The mention of Kathryn's student loans are both a reminder that of the Lynn family’s tight financial situation and something that signals that she'll have to work extra hard to pull herself out of this accrued debt. Further, the fact that she must take on more debt (by enrolling in community college) to keep the debt at bay shows how the American economic system hurts families like the Lynns who don’t have the money to send their children to college outright.
Billy asks Kathryn about Denise's possible home equity loan. Kathryn tells Billy to not worry about it but shares that they're $400,000 in debt due to medical bills. She tells Billy to not give their parents any money, as Ray bought his secret daughter a brand-new Mustang car for her sixteenth birthday.
The revelation about the Mustang suggests that had Ray been more loyal to his married family, they might not be in such dire financial straits now.
The rest of the afternoon passes as Kathryn asks about life at the front. Finally, she asks how Billy and the other Bravos actually feel about the war. Billy admits that he doesn't think anyone knows what they're doing in Iraq. He says that the soldiers are trying to work on infrastructure and feed children, and the Iraqis hate them.
For Billy, the war is less about the firefights like the one that got him famous and more about these humanitarian projects, though the fact that he's not recognized for feeding children suggests that the American public is more interested in dramatic battles than actually helping people.
Kathryn asks what would happen if Billy didn't go back, and Billy insists that he can't not go back. She frantically lists all the high-profile men who didn't serve—Cheney, Karl Rove, Bill O'Reilly, President Bush—and says that if they want a war, they can fight it. Kathryn begins to cry when Billy doesn't appear swayed and mentions that there's a group in Austin that helps soldiers legally desert. Billy insists he'll be fine, but finally pulls a weeping Kathryn to him. He finds her cries peaceful, and he falls asleep.
Kathryn's cries are comforting to Billy because they're a very overt depiction of her support and loyalty, which he doesn't get from other members of his family. The existence of this group in Austin suggests that there are Americans who believe the war is misguided, and that Americans don't treat their veterans properly.
Billy wakes to the sound of Ray's wheelchair in the yard. It startles Billy, and his soldier reflexes kick in—he notes that if he'd had a weapon handy, Ray would be dead. Ray lights a cigarette in the yard, and Billy thinks about how family is supposed to be the one sure thing in life. He thinks of all his fellow Bravos' families, all of which are dysfunctional or abusive. Billy remembers how, in the days after September 11, Ray had gotten on the air advocating for "nuclear cleansing" in the Middle East, and Billy feels as though he was fated to join the Army because his father so wholeheartedly supported the war. However, even though Ray strongly supports the war that his son takes part it, Ray still doesn’t seem to love Billy.
Billy implies that the Bravos share such a strong bond because none of them come from solid, stable, loving homes. Even though the relationships between Bravos are dysfunctional in their own ways, the Bravos look out for each other in ways that their families never did.
Billy watches, perplexed, as Ray whirrs around the yard, presumably looking at the flowers—something he's never done before. Suddenly, Brian rushes out the back door and runs to Ray. He climbs on the back of Ray's wheelchair and begs for Ray to "make it jump." Billy watches Ray as he wheelies out of his slow-moving chair, and Brian howls with happiness. Billy feels warm and wonders if he and Ray might have a "moment" as Ray pulls around towards Billy, but Ray instead throws a cold, dismissive look at his son.
As a toddler, Brian has nothing to do with the pain and suffering that Ray has felt as a result of his strokes, which makes Brian the only "safe" family member for Ray to have a relationship with. When Ray dismisses Billy and continues to play with his grandson, it shows that Ray does have the capability of being warm and loving—he just cannot show that to someone who has witnessed his great embarrassment and understood it.
At dinner later, Ray again cranks up the volume on the TV, and Denise, Kathryn, and Patty argue about the home equity loan. When Denise breaks down crying, Billy assures her that everything will be fine. When Billy goes to bed later, he feels much older than nineteen. He wakes up horribly hungover, masturbates, packs his things, and joins his family. Denise and the girls look stricken over breakfast as Billy explains where he's off to next. Kathryn tells Billy to compliment Beyoncé when he meets her, and Denise begins to cry. Billy feels as though he has to be strong as he watches Patty tear up too.
This subpar dinner and sad breakfast compared to the rest of Billy's visit shows that the comfort of home has dissolved over Billy’s twenty-four-hour visit. Now that he's older and has seen through changed eyes how his family functions, he's no longer able to idealize any of his family members.
Denise suggests that maybe someone should wake Ray, but Billy shrugs. Brian sleepily pads into the kitchen and climbs into Patty's lap, and his presence seems to calm everyone. Billy watches the clocks move towards 7:00am, at which point everyone notices a black car pulling into the driveway. Denise begins sobbing at the sink, Kathryn runs to the door, and somehow, Billy ends up holding Brian. As Billy says goodbye to Denise and Patty, he feels as though Brian muffles some of the shock and pain. When he hands Brian back to Patty, he tells her to never let Brian join the Army. Kathryn says goodbye to Billy at the car and closes the door after him. Once in the car, Billy feels as though he's melting. He looks back and sees Ray watching, but Billy doesn't know how to interpret Ray’s gaze.
After his time at home, Billy understands and seems to accept that Ray isn't a useful or necessary part of his idea of family anymore. When he tells Patty to not let Brian join the Army, it shows that Billy is fully aware of how strange, absurd, and difficult military service is for the service member's family. It's also a way of showing loyalty to Patty, as he doesn't want her to have to go through the pain he sees Denise experiencing now.