Monday, August 29, 2011

Review: You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

Normally short stories are not high on my list of appealing things to read. A few authors have managed to break through my apathy for the form though and after reading this collection of linked short stories, I'm going to add Siobhan Fallon to the list. When we see news coverage of our troops, it generally focuses on the far away places in which they are fighting, the emotional toll it takes on the men and women in uniform, or on the tragedy of their loss. Rarely do we see even a human interest story on the lives of the people they've left behind, the husbands, wives, and children who wait patiently for them on military bases around the country. Fallon's stories offer glimpses into the lives of the families who live a military life even when the men (and women) are gone.

I picked this up one night and absolutely zipped through it. Beautiful and affecting, these tales of life on base after the soldiers are deployed and how they integrate back into their lives and those of their families after such extended absences are timely and well-written. The uniqueness of the army base setting and the challenges faced by our military and their families make this an unusual but important read. Tackling subjects as diverse as infidelity, loss of trust, loneliness, the ever present threat of death or disability, and the petty everyday minutia that takes on a greater significance in light of the dangers facing the husbands in these stories, the collection is unvarnished and honest.

Fallon's prose in unadorned and straightforward and the stories are sometimes stark and unforgiving. The lives of the wives are threaded through with tension and anticipation, sometimes pleasant and other times terrifying. Some of the stories are a little ragged and unfinished but that reflects reality of life on base. There are no real endings, not even when a wife hears the worst, that her husband has died, just the relentless march of life moving onward. A moving look at the enormous range of sacrifices made by our military and their loved ones, this collection is well worth savoring.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. I've heard a lot of good things about this book. I really hope to read it at some point.

  2. I really liked this one too, and I'm also not much of a short story fan. I am challenging myself to read more short fiction and finding there are some types I enjoy. Still, this collection was lovely, and I'm eager to see what Fallon does next. Whether it's a novel or stories, I'll read it.


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