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.