Monday, February 28, 2011

A Review of You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

You Know When the Men Are Gone
4 out of 5: Siobhan Fallon lived on the army base in Fort Hood, Texas while her husband was deployed to Iraq for two tours of duty, and it is this fertile setting that gives rise to Fallon’s recently published collection of stories You Know When the Men Are Gone. Although a couple stories unfold within sight of the front lines, the most successful ones take place on the base, where Fallon’s personal experience yields a richly detailed world about which we civilians know very little.

Fallon’s plain prose is well-suited to her context, never overshadowing the raw emotions experienced by her characters. Her simple images underscore the gravity of a country at war:
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 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.
Most of these stories focus on this “muted life” lived by the women left behind on base after their husbands are shipped overseas to Iraq or Afghanistan. Without calling into question the enormous respect and honor owed to these soldiers, Fallon doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant aspects of a country at war: the post traumatic stress disorder and other injuries suffered by soldiers, the abuse of alcohol and drugs, the potential for domestic violence and adultery, and the specter of war widowhood.

You Know When the Men Are Gone opens a window into a foreign world that’s hiding within ordinary communities scattered across the United States. This is a world we dutifully honor from afar but neglect to examine closely. Fallon’s stories make us suspect we’re not doing enough, not sacrificing enough, for our country. As such, they are challenging and well worth reading.


Zibilee said...

I have been reading a lot about this book, and the fact that it is written in short story form and is so compelling in the story that it strives to tell makes me really want to take a chance on this book. I am glad to hear that it was a good read for you. I will be looking for it!

bermudaonion said...

I loved this book. As a military brat, I was aware of a lot of what the families go through. I agree with you that this should be a reminder to all of us to help these families.