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".
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
"Significant both as war stories and love stories, this collection certifies Fallon as an indisputable talent." (Publishers Weekly)
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You know when you've got a great read!
- Pamela Harvey
Sad yet heartwarming stories of war