Published January 2012 by Penguin Group
Source: bought my audio copy at my local library book sale
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
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.
In the weeks leading up to the publication of You Know When The Men Are Gone, reviews across the blogiverse (yes, non-bloggers, that's a word; Merriam-Webster just hasn't caught up with us yet) were singing the praises of this book. And I was certain that I was going to read it soon. But, like so many books, because it didn't land in my lap, it languished on the wish list. A few weeks ago, I found it at my local library sale. On audio, no less, narrated by the highly-esteemed Cassandra Campbell.
It is hard to believe that You Know When The Men Are Gone is Fallon's debut story collection. It is taut, unflinching, and eloquent without being sentimental. As the wife of an Army major, stationed at Fort Hood, who was twice deployed, Fallon knows what she's talking about but even if you didn't know her pedigree you'd know you were reading the real thing. I couldn't help but wonder if it might be too hard for some who are facing the same situation. Simply put, I loved it. The pain wrought by ten years of war is frightening and heartbreaking and Fallon makes it clear just how much has been sacrificed by so many.
"She carried her worry night and day. It pull at her legs and shoulders and tear ducts, always there and ready to consume her because how could anyone think rationally about a spouse in a war zone?"I am equal parts sad that I did not read this sooner and happy that I did not read it until I could "read" it on audio. Because, wow, Cassandra Campbell is fantastic. She could have sold me on a much lesser book.
Read it, read it, read it. Just know that you may find yourself feeling the same way that Lily Burana of the Washington Post felt:
"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. At one point, I stuffed it under the love seat cushions. If Fallon ever expands her talents into a novel, I may have to hide in the closet for a month."