Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Review: You Know When the Men Are Gone

Author: Siobhan Fallon
Format: Advanced galley from  Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam , 225 pages
Subject: Military life during deployments
Setting: primarily Ft Hood Texas
Genre: Short stories
Source: Publisher via LibraryThing Early Review program

This book struck close to home.  As a military wife, I spent 29 years watching my husband go off to sea, waiting endlessly for letters or phone calls and for the day the ship would return to port.  So I could relate very personally to Fallon's stories about military life during our country's current war on terrorism.

At the time my spouse was on active duty, we did not have women serving in combat, so my relations with deployed spouses were single sex. Now the military family group is more diverse, although the spouses featured in this volume are mainly female.

Fallon writes exquisitely of the loneliness experienced by those left behind, and by those who serve.  Those at home are afforded the 'luxury' of going home to family to wait out the deployment, they have a never-ending series of outings, potluck suppers, craft classes, and in some cases, civilian employment to fill the days.  The present day military has gone to great lengths to provide support groups, Family Readiness groups, and mentors for new spouses.  Still, nights are harder, and all too often may be filled with mind-numbing substances to escort a lonely soul to the next dawn.

Those who are serving can be just as lonely, and often have fewer outlets to assuage the loneliness.  The soldiers on watch, on patrol, the sailor looking out to sea at night, the airman with her eyes glued to an instrument panel, cannot go home to family to wait it out.  They often cannot escape annoying company mates, or obnoxious buddies. Their minds must blank out loved ones for hours on end and learn to cope with the buddies who may ultimately be in a position to save their lives.

The short story format used in this book is an exceptional one  to show the many facets of family trauma being experienced now and the future effects of PTSD incidents we will be looking at for years to come.  Her stores are believable, melancholy, tightly plotted, and offer us characters that could inhabit any military base in America today.   They also could have inhabited any military base in the last century.  Not much has changed in the past 50 years at least.

The stories are particularly powerful in that Fallon does not try to politicize her stories at all.  She speaks to the lives of the characters as they are without commenting on the whys of military deployments.  Military families learn early on that questioning why is counter-productive to getting through the night.  By including stories about the deployed servicemembers as well as their families left behind, we are given a fascinating glimpse of both sides of the family dynamics involved.

This is a book that can be appreciated by anyone who ever served in the military as well as those who have not but want to learn more about that very honorable and distinct way of life. Fallon's prose is strong, clear, and superb, making this a book that is readable, compelling and sure to be talked about both in and outside the military.


  1. Thank you so much, Tutu!
    This is such a wonderful review, very beautifully written, and it is clear that you "have been there."
    I really appreciate you reading the collection and spreading the word.
    All the best,
    Siobhan Fallon

  2. I also just wrote a review of this amazing book. It was great to read a fellow reviewer. Thanks for sharing!


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