You Know When the Men Are Gone
(Amy Einhorn Books, 2011)
Set in and around Fort Hood, the now infamous military base in Texas, the loosely linked stories that comprise Siobhan Fallon’s debut collection offer an intimate window into the lives of the spouses left behind, and the men and women on the frontlines of war. Fallon herself lived at Fort Hood while her husband served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. The nature of military life imposes an intimacy on its denizens, an intimacy that can be both claustrophobic and comforting.
So we have women like Meg, who listens to her neighbor, singing lullabies to her children and sobbing, through the thin drywall that separates their apartments. We are privy to the gossip and intrigue that come from living in such close quarters. At the Family Readiness Group meetings—the closest thing to family for many of those left behind on the base—we learn the coping mechanisms of those who stay, and what makes people leave.
There are also the survivors: surviving spouses and survivors of the battlefield, with their visible and invisible wounds. Fallon writes tenderly and honestly about the soldiers themselves: the ex-investment banker who enlisted after September 11 and finds it hard to relate to life beyond the theater of war; the young husband returning home wounded; and the officer who suspects his wife of infidelity. These are real people, whose ordinary problems are distorted by the war that the men, as suggested by the title, are fighting. You Know When the Men are Gone is a well-written and compassionate account of life on and off a military base.