Thursday, May 26, 2011

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

"You also know when the men are gone. No more boots stomping above, no more football games turned up too high, and, best of all, no more front doors slamming before dawn as they trudge out for their early formation, sneakers on metal stairs, cars starting, shouts to the windows above to throw them down their gloves on cold desert mornings. Babies still cry, telephones ring, Saturday morning cartoons screech, but without the men, there is a sense of muted silence, a sense of muted life."

   I can't put into words how much I loved this book, but I shall try. You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon is a collection of short stories about "the army of women waiting for their men to return in Fort Hood, Texas." Eight loosely connected short stories dealing with some of the realities of military life: loneliness, PTSD, living on base, and adultery among other things.

   For a few reasons, I don't usually seek out short stories. Usually, there are a few amazing stories in a collection and the rest are just okay. That is not the case with You Know When the Men Are Gone. Every story is strong in its own right. The stories chosen for the first and last stories make a perfect introduction and conclusion for the collection.

   Other problems I have with short stories is that they are not long enough for me to feel a connection to the characters, and I feel they wrap up too tidily for something so short. I felt a connection with almost all of the characters and was immediately interested in their lives and what was happening to them. While Fallon is a talented writer, my interest is probably also due to the fact that this is a life and culture I know little about. As for Fallon's endings, they don't wrap up. And while that leaves me wanting, I appreciate it because life is not always tidy. I will say I am not exaggerating when I say I wanted more. One of the stories, "Leave," is about a soldier that suspects his wife is cheating on him. He comes home on leave without telling and sneaks into the basement, where he waits for proof one or or another. The ending to this story is left up to the imagination.

   Fallon's collection has made me want to give short stories another chance. Anyone have any recommendations? Sadly, the collection also makes me want to check out the show Army Wives, even though I am trying to cut out TV time, not add to it. It was just so interesting and I want more from her, more about these characters, but since I don't have that... Army Wives it is.


  1. I just finished reading Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman, which I thought was incredible. I'm also not a huge fan of short stories, but Smoke and Mirrors has made me think that maybe I should look into the genre more. Great review! Hope you find some other collections that you like!

  2. I don't seek out short stories either, although I enjoy them well enough when I come across them. Sometimes it's just nice to be able to finish something that quickly. :)

    The only collection I've read recently is Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan. It's a very painful book to read, but it's also amazing. I wrote a review on my blog when I read it, so you can check that out if you want.