You Know When the Men are Gone, a book of short stories by Siobhan Fallon, shows what life is like for soldiers and families at Ford Hood, Texas. Full disclosure here: I don’t usually read short stories. I don’t like them. There isn’t enough space for the characters to develop, for plots to run their course, for me to connect with the story. I picked this up on the recommendation of Dave Mallmann from our lit fiction book group. Dave is also a buyer for indie bookstore Next Chapter Bookshop in Mequon, Wis., and gets to read books ahead of their publishing dates. Thanks to his tip, I knew to read this as soon as it came out. To my pleasure, I found that Fallon, an army wife herself, has written a loosely connected book of stories that feel real.
While part of me felt like it was my patriotic duty to read this book (if men and women are going off to die for our country and their families are suffering innumerable hardships stateside during their multiple, increasingly frequent deployments, surely the least I can do is read a book of short stories about it), I found myself enjoying it. Characters from some stories are picked up in other stories later on, which gives a loose sense of connection throughout the book and creates a sense of the Fort Hood community. One of my favorite things was the endings: The stories aren’t all neatly tied up in little bows, and yet they don’t end mysteriously either, leaving you wondering what the hidden meaning is supposed to be. Some end messily, some end happily, some end sadly. The characters are believable and you see the tough choices that all of the members of the families face, whether they’re wives, soldiers, or children.
This is a quick read, and I’d definitely recommend it to short story lovers or anyone who wants to give the genre another try.
You Know When the Men are Gone by Siobhan Fallon (Penguin Group, 2011)
My rating: Five stars