War is fought in the field and at home, they say, and You Know When The Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon makes this remarkably clear. In this debut collection of eight stories, the lives of soldiers and their wives revolve around Ft. Hood, although their dramas may play out in battle, in the bedroom, on the bus shipping out, or in a hospital bed. Here marriages are threatened as much by mortal combat as by the explosive disconnect when spouses, changed by their diverging sacrifices, reunite.
Forbearance and fear are hallmarks of these lives, and they are given voice by Cassandra Campbell. She personifies each character with understated command, and her deftly light accents, range of cadence, and perfectly-timed pauses put her in the ranks of the best narrators. Her affinity with the book and its subject matter inform her performance and give it a sort of stoic restraint.
In the title story, Meg, waiting for her husband’s stint to end, becomes obsessed with her new neighbor Natalya, a Serbian beauty of sadness and cryptic broken English and a secret night life that she leaves her children home alone for. Empathizing, feeling an outsider too, being childless among all the army mothers Meg fills her loneliness by trying to puzzle out Natalya’s reality.
In “Inside the Break”, Hawaiian-born Kailani hacks her husband’s email after a long silence and discovers that he, or another Manny Rodriguez (as he will claim), has cheated on her with a notorious female soldier in Iraq. She sees their future together telescope to a single decision about knowing and refusing to know. Finally, “The Last Stand” offers a searing example of Fallon’s unflinching exploration of physical and mental pain. In it, a soldier named Kit survives a fierce attack with a shattered leg and a limited supply of Vicodin. In the hospital, he endures by keeping a mental list of the many simple pleasures of life back home with his young wife; a list that threatens to become an unbearable artifact of their marriage upon his return.
Fallon writes with nuance and many shades of grey and, like the best short story writers, delicately balances epiphany and inevitability and draws from the deepest knowledge of her characters and their world; indeed, she writes as one of them, with heart but without pity. With Campbell’s perfectly complimentary support, we hear in Fallon’s work dimensions of loss that soldiers and their families experience to gain our security. Elly Schull Meeks
In Fort Hood housing, like all army housing, you get used to hearing through the walls. You learn too much. And you learn to move quietly through your own small domain. You also know when the men are gone. No more boots stomping above, no more football games turned up too high, and, best of all, no more front doors slamming before dawn as they trudge out for their early formation, sneakers on metal stairs, cars starting, shouts to the windows above to throw them down their gloves on cold desert mornings. Babies still cry, telephones ring, Saturday morning cartoons screech, but without the men, there is a sense of muted silence, a sense of muted life. There is an army of women waiting for their men to return to Fort Hood, Texas.
As Siobhan Fallon shows in this collection of loosely interconnected short stories, each woman deals with her husband's absence differently. One wife, in an attempt to avoid thinking about the risks her husband faces in Iraq, develops an unhealthy obsession with the secret life of her neighbor. Another woman's simple trip to the PX becomes unbearable when she pulls into her Gold Star parking space. And one woman's loneliness may lead to dire consequences when her husband arrives home. In gripping, no-nonsense stories that will leave you shaken, Fallon allows you into a world tightly guarded by gates and wire. It is a place where men and women cling to the families they have created as the stress of war threatens to pull them apart. The stories included in this collection are "You Know When the Men Are Gone", "Camp Liberty", "Remission", "Inside the Break", "The Last Stand", "Leave", "You Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming", and "Gold Star".
©2011 Siobhan Fallon (P)2011 Tantor
"Significant both as war stories and love stories, this collection certifies Fallon as an indisputable talent." (Publishers Weekly)
This is an astonishing book on so many levels. It's a collection of short stories, but somehow the characters are connected, and any one story could be expanded into a complete novel. Fallon writes with depth and extreme multi-layered perception and nuance about an aspects of life in general and life in the military deployed in particular, a theme seldom touched on in contemporary fiction. Fallon expands the soldier's story to include his/her family and each of their stories as well, and she shatters the over-simplified myth that our soldiers are always model citizens, always perfect, morally correct, and she ventures into the grey areas that inform anyone's life, military or civilian. She also brings to light the cultural differences between the enormous energy center of a military base compared to its civilian counterpart. Mostly, her stories finish with equivocal resolution, thus the reader needs to step up and imagine. I hope to see more from this writer.
In this collection of shorts, each story has a different perspective on the aftermath of war, ranging from the heartbreak of wives and children left without husbands for years at a time, to the experience of soldiers returning to a place that no longer feels like home. The only jarring bit is the breaks between stories--there aren't any, so as I was listening I kept having to go back a bit because I'd realize that a new story had started without me being aware of it. (A bit confusing at first!) This audiobook is also short, which is nice for those times when you're not in the mood for a 19 hour monstrosity. The narrator's voice is pleasant and the stories were interesting.
As both a Soldier and the wife of a Soldier, I know both worlds discussed in these short stories. I am unsure if the writer or narrator have truly experienced either. The narrator sounds like the "xtranormal" animation program female - monotone and pronouncing each letter of each acronym. FOB is not pronounced F - O - B, but Fahb, as one word. Her accents often sound the same and her 'male' voice annoyed me - I wish she would have just stuck to reading. The author seemed simply to play to the 'Army Wives' crowd, making every aspect of Army and deployed life seem freakishly dramatic.
Anger, pity, depression
I wished I would have spent my $4.95 on a fancy coffee and just stuck to NPR this week.
I had a really hard time getting into this story and getting attached. I kept saying "I'll give it one more chapter" and by the time I was ready to give up on it, I only had 2 chapters left, so I stuck with it. I don't know why either. The characters were fine but I never really got attached to them. As an ex-Army spouse I thought I would. It is a realistic portrayal of deployments, the families left behind and the awkwardness of reuniting post-deployment but if you're looking for Army Wives like the TV show, this isn't it.
I have always loved to read, and now I really enjoy listening to my books as well!!
I'm honest enough to admit I did not realize this book was a collection of short stories--somehow I missed that in the description! Unfortunately, this had an impact on my listening experience--I kept expecting the "chapters" to tie together--
This misunderstanding is totally my fault, but subsequently I did not enjoy the book. I am not fond of story collections anyway, and would probably not have purchased it. The book was not badly written or narrated, just not my cup of tea.
I have listened to a lot of books. This would be in the top third.
It was compelling and shed light on the sacrifices and challenges that our military spouses face.
Excellent narrator but not sure how to answer this one.
I would not rename it.
I would have appreciated at least one story that demonstrated the resilience of our military and spouses in a more positive light. Many cope very well and thrive in spite of the challenges. Each deployment and each re-integration is different, even for those who have had multiple deployments. They all deserve our respect and gratitude.
Brooklyn dog owner and detective story fan. I also enjoy memoirs, short stories and literary fiction.
A collection of stories that take place among the soldiers and families of Fort Hood Army base in Texas, this book takes us into a world many of us will never know. The stories manage to escape being heavy handed; the power of this collection is the gut punch that comes when you realize that millions of Americans are living this reality while we float through our days, untouched by war.
It showed how strong women are
would like to listen to more stories by authur
Middle of the road - very good stories, but lost my attention a few times.
Anticipation of the end as you realize how each short story is written
No - I enjoyed this narrator.
A glimpse of lives in an army housing, military spouses are your family, there's always the uncertainty that your spouse will never be home after a deployment. Each family has their fair share of emotional turmoil, episodes of separations, infidelity, commotion, anger, irrational (or not) actions and the ensued consequences. All these packed into 8 interconnected short stories, Fallon's writing style is poignant, honest that invites reader to have a peek into the not only the world of war, more importantly the battlefield that is at home.
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