four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
52-May-June-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-You Know When the Men Are GoneSiobhan Fallon received her MFA from the New School in New York City. In her first collection of short stories, she explores the lives of military families living on an army base in Fort Hood, Texas, inspired by the time she spent there during her husband's tours of duty in Iraq.

The Story: Eight interwoven tales chronicle the highs and lows of life as a military spouse. In "Leave," a soldier goes to extreme lengths to find out if his wife is cheating on him. In "The Last Stand," an injured soldier returns home only to discover his wife is no longer interested in being married. A wife logs on to her missing husband's e-mail account in "Inside the Break," with heartbreaking results. In "Camp Liberty," a banker leaves behind wealth and privilege for wartime Iraq. And in the title story, a group of wives disapprove of their flamboyant Serbian neighbor, Natalya. Each tale offers poignant, honest insights into this war-torn, alienating life.
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam. 240 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 9780399157202

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[A] terrific and terrifically illuminating book. ... The highest praise I can give this book--as a critic and a soldier's wife--is that it's so achingly authentic that I had to put it down and walk away at least a dozen times." Lily Burana

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"[W]hile many of her characters are women whose husbands have been deployed, it is to Fallon's credit as a writer that the stories written from the perspective of soldiers who've returned from the front are equally convincing. ... [A] haunting collection likely to inform and move many readers, whether they are familiar with the intricacies of military life or not." Jessica Treadway

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Each story is a gem, and taken together the collection paints a 360-degree view of the family stress imposed by service. ... [Fallon] is speaking of those left to wait, and it is a fresh point of view." Robin Vidimos

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"She has a sharp, clean, prose style; a gift for telling urgent, important stories; and an eye for the kind of odd, revelatory detail that may seem ordinary if you have spent time on military bases but that civilians rarely encounter." Stephanie Vaughn

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Convenient for an overscheduled reader, the collection's strengths shine one after another, after the first three stories. ... In the title story, women ‘smacked their palms frail' against the paper-thin walls of base housing, and that's a bit what this reader feels like doing: to protest some of this book's noise and to join in making the rest louder." Kristin Thiel

Critical Summary

Siobhan Fallon spent years at Fort Hood while her husband served in Iraq, and her stories feel deeply authentic--to the point where one reviewer was left near tears. Never preachy or one-dimensional, Fallon instead creates sympathetic, flawed characters caught up in an impossible situation. Ultimately, critics hailed Fallon as a promising new voice who delivers "poignant, sometimes crude, and consistently compelling insights" (Boston Globe) into the lives of our servicemen and the families they leave behind. The lesson of this collection, according to the Washington Post: "When the men come home, the real battles begin. And if the war doesn't kill you, the fiery reentry just might."