15 December 2010

Review: You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

You Know When the Men Are Gone, a debut work from Siobhan Fallon, is a collection of loosely related short stories told mostly from the point of view of the women left behind at the army base of Fort Hood, TX, when their men deploy. (And yes, in this book it is invariably women who are left behind.) Unlike, for example Olive Kitteridge or In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, which are really more novels told in stories, Fallon's stories are more disjointed, and though the theme of waiting is carried on throughout, the effect is one of disconnect, which serves to highlight the alienation that all of the characters seem to feel.

Occasionally we get a man's perspective, but I found those narrative shifts a bit jarring, especially a story called "Leave," in which a soldier breaks into his own basement to stalk his wife during an unannounced leave because he suspects she has been seeing somebody else.  In "Inside the Break," a woman waits to hear whether her husband has survived an insurgent attack; delirious with worry, she logs into his email account and is bewildered to find evidence that he is not only alive, but is possibly having an affair.  Her short-lived relief takes on the ugly edge of suspicion, leaving her feeling worse than before. In another story, the reader learns why one widow avoids the Gold Star reserved parking--the words of gratitude and sympathy contrive to make her feel like she has lost her husband all over again.

Every once in a while, Fallon strikes literary gold with her insight into the double burdens of being part of a military couple, leaving me wanting to know so much more than the short story format is able to provide.  It makes me wonder how she might fare if she set her sights on a novel instead, really freeing herself into the lives of her characters instead of restricting her access in a short story.  I suspect that the longer form might be her strong suit and I look forward to reading more from her.

You Know When the Men Are Gone is forthcoming in January from Amy Einhorn Books, which is part of Penguin.  I received my copy from my sales rep, the lovely Karl Krueger, who raved about it to me and pressed it into my hands.  It's good, verging on the very good, and I think we can expect more work that is provocative from Fallon in the future.


  1. This sounds like an intriguing collection about a subject that is not often seriously explored in fiction.

  2. Beautiful review. Can't wait to check it out. Like the new background and thanks for turning me onto the book blogger hop. It's fun.

  3. Thank you, Emily!
    I am working on a novel right now-- please cross your fingers that my editor likes it (draft is due next week!).
    All the best,


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