I just finished Siobhan Fallon's You Know When The Men Are Gone, a collection of very loosely interconnected stories about the lives of military families. Fallon, who lived at Fort Hood in Texas while her husband was deployed twice to Iraq, writes about the lives of the women left behind and the impact of their husbands' deployment on both the husbands and the wives.
The war in Iraq – now Afghanistan – has been going on for years, and it's easy to forget, or at least not think about, the lives of the men fighting abroad and the families back at home. They become names and numbers on a newspaper page, rather than living, breathing people with complicated emotions and motivations. Fallon brings them into sharp relief, however, in You Know When The Men Are Gone. She looks at the women and men of these military families in a range of situations: women waiting for their men to return; wounded men returning to ambivalent wives; men who stay behind while their peers go off to fight; men who return with suspicions about their wives' fidlelity; women who wait at home with suspicions about their husbands' fidelity. Fallon has covered many perspective in her collection (though she writes in an afterward that she has so many more stories that she could share). Her stories are full of details about military life – the parking space at the supermarket reserved for families of dead soldiers, the baskets of cookies collected by military wives to welcome home their men, the "no cell phones during checkpoints" rules at the base – that only insiders would know.
I loved this book. Fallon's writing is spare but emotionally powerful. I am not always a fan of short stories, but the structure here allows Fallon to look at military life through ten different perspectives, which makes for a very rich experience. The stories that stood out the most to me were "Remission" – about a woman who has just gone through cancer treatment and is having trouble connecting with her teenage daughter, while her husband feels guilty about his troops off in Iraq while he stays home with his wife – and "Inside the Break" – about a wife who checks her deployed husband's email and learns something she wishes she hadn't. But really, all of these stories are memorable. Fallon is a master of narrative tension and understatement, and the endings of her stories leave you wanting more.
In addition to being a great read, You Know When The Men Are Gone is an important reminder of the many, many sacrifices being made all over the world – both abroad and on military bases across the country – to fight wars that have become almost abstractions to many civilians. I highly recommend it.
Check out these other review of You Know When The Men Are Gone from Jenn's Bookshelves, Jen at Devourer of Books, and The Book Lady's Blog. Here also is a Q&A with Siobhan Fallon on her website.
Hello FTC! Thanks to Amy Einhorn Books for the review copy.