You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon
Published by Penguin

The short stories contained in You Know When the Men Are Gone tell one comprehensive story about what life is like at the Fort Hood, Texas army base. These stories reveal what the women of Ford Hood struggle with when their husbands are away, how they form friendships and take care of their children, how they nurse their injured soldiers back to health, and how they create a solid, stable life for their families when everything about that life is ever-changing.

I decided to pick up this book because in recent years I have discovered that I really enjoy short stories when they are done well. And You Know When the Men Are Gone had been receiving so much praise from book bloggers that I knew it was a short story collection I couldn’t live without reading. I also have a slightly personal connection to the story – my youngest brother Alex is a US Marine currently stationed in Afghanistan. So although I can’t completely relate to these women as I’ve never lived on a military base or been married to a member of our military, I know what it’s like to constantly worry about that person, to live with the uncertainty of what tomorrow might bring for him.

And the book definitely lived up to my expectations. I was pleasantly surprised at Fallon’s ability to create such a solid sense of place in so few pages. She made me feel like I was a part of these women’s lives, like I was living at Ford Hood with them and I was experiencing their pain and joy as they were. These characters were real to me, but more than that, the base itself was a real character. The aspects of life on a military base became crystal clear to me and at this point I almost feel like I’ve had that experience myself. I did have the opportunity to visit the MCAS base where my brother was stationed before he left for oversees, and based on the two days I spent there, Fallon accurately captured what life is like on a military base. It really amazed me how much everything about it felt so real.

One thing I appreciated about this book was the fact that the stories were not entirely separate. Characters from one story would pop up in another story, giving the entire book a more cohesive feeling. While I can’t say that any one character in particular sticks out to me, they all won me over and I felt a deep sense of understanding them as I read each of their stories.

I began reading this book in audio format and read the first couple of chapters that way, but unfortunately the CD started skipping about halfway through so I switched to print for the second half. Having experienced the book in both mediums, I can safely say that either way works well. The narration wasn’t anything special but was enjoyable enough, and the book itself is short enough that it’s easy to fly through if you decide to read it in print.

Overall, You Know When the Men Are Gone is an excellent collection of short stories about life on a military base. I would highly recommend it.

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22 thoughts on “You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

  1. It sounds like you really had a personal connection with this book, and I am glad to hear that you liked it. Though I have mostly read positive reviews, there have been a few negative ones as well, but I think I still want to give it a go. I love that the book is told in short story format, but that there are threads connecting the stories throughout the book. Thanks for the very perceptive and thoughtful review!

    1. While the personal connection definitely helped, I would have enjoyed the book either way. The writing is extremely perceptive and the stories themselves are just so good. I hope you enjoy it!

  2. Yeah, I thought this book was crazy good. I liked that it showed how life for these spouses and soldiers are not perfect, and sacrifices are made. I listened to this on audio, and the narrator, Cassandra Campbell, is one of my favorites.

    1. Hmm Cassandra Campbell didn’t do a whole lot for me. I didn’t mind her but wasn’t blown away either. What else does she narrate? Maybe I need to listen to something else she did and perhaps she will grow on me.

  3. I’ve heard such wonderful things about this book! I will probably read it eventually. My dad was in the military so I have some experience with living on the base and that kind of thing, but there’s that whole other perspective from the wives that I’m sure I’d be interested in.

  4. I enjoy short stories and am always happy to find a good collection. Your review of Siobhan Fallon’s collection is wonderfully. I don’t have a personal connection to these stories about military families like you do, but it sounds like, from what you wrote in your review, that the stories have universal appeal with themes of friendship, love, loss, caring for family etc. I like the aspect of some characters show up in more than one story, too. I’m certainly going to pick up this collection on one of my book “binges”!

  5. I loved this book, too. Great review. Interestingly, I was flipping through my mom’s Good Housekeeping the other day and they had excerpted one of the stories–so hopefully Fallon will find a wider audience.

  6. This book was one of my favorites this year. Although I don’t have a personal connection to anyone currently in the military there was something about these characters that I could feel. And that rarely happens for me in short stories.

  7. I am glad to hear you liked this so much – I am starting it soon for book club. I agree with you – when short stories are done well, they are really an art. To get so much into a short story is a skill.

  8. I have a brother who is the Army, so I could relate to this as well. It sounds like a fast read but it makes a stand.

  9. This is not normally the sort of book (short stories, depressing military stuff) that I’d tend to pick up. But my book club is reading it for our April pick, and I’m actually really, really looking forward to it. Book clubs are so good for making you read things you might not otherwise read.

  10. Wow, so happy I came across this blog post!
    Thank you, Heather, for writing such lovely things about my book– I am so happy the stories resonated with you. And thank you to your readers above who said they will take a look at the stories as well. Those of you who are doing YKWTMAG for a book club, please get in touch with me at siobhanmf@att.net if you’d like me to visit via Skype (I am currently stationed with my fam in Amman, Jordan, so skype is the closest I can get!).
    Heather, thanks again, I see that you have a faithful following and it was so wonderful of you to spread the word.
    All the best to you and your brave Marine brother,
    Siobhan

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