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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
In this terse and bold book of eight interconnected stories featuring Fort Hood army wives, breakout author Siobhan Fallon invites readers to peek through the hazy base-house curtains into largely uncharted territory. She offers an intimate glimpse of the spouses and children left behind to cope when the men in the infantry battalion of 1-7 Cav are deployed to Iraq.

We've seen media pictures proffering the stalwart strength and Mona Lisa smiles of army wives, but we haven't been host to their private trials--of farewells, homecomings, and transitions. Fallon captures their mixed emotions and fears with a gritty realism, and reveals critical, vital moments in their insular and marginal lives. She glances sharply into the tearful deployment, the lonely absence, and the stirring homecoming. How the wives cope with these changes is a recurring theme.

This is fiction, but Fallon writes with authority: her husband, a major, was deployed in Iraq for two tours of duty while she lived in Fort Hood. She knows the depth of the cookie-cutter, thin-walled houses--they are occupied by courageous and terrified women with thick skins, empty beds, and tentative thoughts.

The wives in this book form a proxy family together, the FRG (Family Readiness group), where, for better or worse, they convene and connect. They bond in this dry and desolate patch of Central Texas, support each other, and wait for news of the front. Mingling with civilians off base is distressing. It's painful to watch a dad knock around a ball with his son, or a couple dining out and dancing cheek to cheek. Some of these wives have babies who haven't yet met their daddies. How they endure the complex emotions of separation drives the narrative and compels the reader.

As Fallon shows us, the time in limbo is often marked with dread and confusion. It can be a powerful change agent, mushroom their fear, or injure self-esteem, to name a few effects. It can dash a formerly positive body image, especially if anxiety and loneliness create eye bags and a gaunt complexion. The women in her stories often have sleep disturbances and eat erratically. One woman quells her insomnia by listening to her neighbor's routines through the permeable walls.

In the first story, Meg goes to the Commissary, eyes a raw slab of steak--the rivulets of fat, the sanguinary juices, the protruding bone--and imagines a mortal battle wound. The women wake up every morning and scan the Internet news for reports of ambushes and roadside bombs, wondering if their husbands are safe in their quarters or unrecognizably shattered in numberless pieces. Meanwhile, they have individual, separate concerns. Fallon kicks it up a notch with her story about a wife in remission from breast cancer, waiting to see the latest reports of her medical tests. In the meantime, her kids did not show up for school, and she has to deal with the embarrassment of soldiers on base assisting, investigating, and scrutinizing her actions that day.

And, what is it like to communicate with your loved one only through technology, to feel the unbearable absence of touch? To wait, and wait, time folding in on itself, or rolling out, while you cleave, living on emails, snail mail, and the rare skype. And, even when they return, the complex dynamics of adjustment and role reversal are stunning; the wives have been independent for so long that sharing a life again can be raw and awkward. Instead of joyful and warm, it may be glacial and fraught with erosion. All that alone time carves out multiple reflections and haunting desires. At least one wife has some lacerating news for her returning and wounded husband.

And, what is it like for the men, the soldiers and officers who have bravely committed this time to the safety and well being of their fellow infantrymen? They didn't sign up to divide their loyalties, to betray their families, but the quixotic beast of war invades the frontier of domestic life, too. Some of them sneak cell phones into their camp. One of the soldiers becomes enchanted with a comely foreign interpreter while on a mission to search for IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). Another soldier isn't sure if he is just paranoid or failed to perceive his wife's change of heart, and acts frantically on his fears. And some of them don't make it home. For those wives, it is the pain of the unknown, the moment of death that is now gone, that took their husband away. That image, the memories, and the disfigurement of grief remain.

Imagine, all alone, with a flashlight, tiptoeing in the dark inside a squat, yellow, dusty rectangular building, suddenly bumping up against a life. You emit a startled gasp. That's what these stories are like. Fallon's prose is stark and incandescent. There are no frills or filler necessary to embellish these candid characters and situations, and I have only hinted at a few. The passages are powerful and lean, the nuances chilling and urgent, and the dénouements radiate with ambiguity. These are bracing mini-portraits with mega-wattage. When you hear Fort Hood mentioned in the news again, it will palpate with familiarity. You'll feel a jolt. It will never again be just that abstract military post in Texas. You'll know when the men are gone.

This review is based on an advanced reading copy I received from the publisher in a lottery giveaway. I was not asked to write a review or praise this book. Rather, I was compelled by the piercing and captivating stories themselves.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 20, 2011
YOU KNOW WHEN THE MEN ARE GONE is a terrific collection of eight short stories that are linked through a shared setting of Fort Hood, Texas, its soldiers who are deployed to Iraq, and their spouses and families who stay behind.

The first story sets up military domestic life and its too-closeness to neighbors and authority. The next follows a soldier serving outside Baghdad -- an investment banker who enlisted after 9/11. Others explore suspicions of adultery; struggling families; wounded soldiers returning early; the difficulty of re-acclimating to home; the public honor and private grief of widowhood.

They're personal stories, not political; gentle and straightforward; sober yet optimistic and some of the most engaging reading I've encountered. Their readability reminded me of Kathryn Stockett's The Help, probably no coincidence since both books are published by Penguin's Amy Einhorn imprint; they prompt me to explore the imprint's whole backlist while I await more by this author.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2011
This book is like nothing I've read before. I learned that I do not know nearly enough about military life and the sacrifices these soldiers and families make. The families suffer far more than separation. The soldiers and their families cannot possibly pick up where they left off. Things change; people change. The book is beautifully written with crisp, tight prose-not a superfluous word. The stories are so real and the characters are well developed. "You Know When the Men are Gone" is unlike any short story collection I have read in the way that characters reappear and the characters' lives .

The first time I went to the ballet, I felt sick to my stomach because it was so beautiful and something totally new and it moved me so much; I felt that way reading "You Know When the Men are Gone."
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 20, 2011
You Know When The Men Are Gone is a beautifully written slender volume of short stories centering around the wives of deployed soldiers based at Ft. Hood, Texas. The stories are loosely related involving different families and different situations, but with a common thread running through each of them that highlights the emotional drain of having a spouse deployed in Iraq and away for a year.

Sometimes depressing, sometimes sad and occasionally humorous, all are written with the compassion and knowledge of someone who has been there. These are not war stories; there is no political agenda. It is a window into the lives of our military families, opened for a brief moment, giving us a glimpse of their world. Some have children, some do not, others are newly wed and barely know each other while others know each other only too well. All are moving tales and all will make you think.

I read this book quickly and then I wanted more. The author has a wonderful writing style with smoothly flowing words and quickly developed characters. It was easy to feel their emotions: loneliness, pain, obsession, suspicion, distrust. Many of the stories deal with infidelity and how difficult it is to be separated from a spouse.

Most of the stories are told from the point of view of the wives. Several are told by the men. Leave is one of the stories told by a husband who is suspicious that his wife is cheating on him. He plots and plans a way to find out the truth and carries his plan out as if it were a military mission. I found this one to be particularly haunting and powerful and am still thinking about it now. He gets his answers but we are left to wonder what he does with the information.

This is a wonderful book, a compelling look into the personal relationships of the men and women in the military, and I highly recommend it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2011
Siobhan Fallon was on NPR a couple of weeks ago discussing this collection of fictional short stories, all of which are related to a group of men deployed from Fort Hood and their families at home. After mentioning it to a military wife, I thought I'd read the book myself. Fallon's writing is very good - without being over-the-top, she manages to describe many difficulties that deployed men and their families face. It's realistic but unfortunate that most of the reunions described in these stories are not happy reunions.

***Spoiler warning***
Most of the bad things that happen in the stories might be considered routine - death, infidelity, and a number of injuries. I thought that the worst story was the one where a soldier stalks his wife in their home, but he doesn't injure anyone, if that helps.
***End spoilers***

These are well-written stories, and I think that they help to shed light on the difficulties that our troops - and their families back home - face.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2011
I bought this book after reading several reviews all of which recommended it. I live in Killeen,Texas which is the home of Ft Hood, the scene of the book. I liked the fact that the book was a collection of short stories about the people of Ft Hood. Each story was excellent in it's own right and some stories linked to another in some way. I could almost picture the characters in the stories...they are the men and women who I see everyday in the PX or commissary or around town...very real people. The wars we are fighting now and the deployments of the military have a tremendous effect on not only the soldiers, but their spouses and families...this book takes us into a few of those lives. It was an excellently written first book and I hope she writes many more.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2011
I knew this was a book of short stories. But you get sucked in to each story that you wish they could've been longer. Each story could've been turned into its own book. This compilation was that good. I wish the author included more stories. Very well written. It paints such a realistic synopsis of military life from all perspectives.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I read some of the negative reviews before writing this, just to understand the opposing point of view. I get where some of them are coming from - that these stories have that MFA feel of workshopped 'perfection' that comes from drafting at expense of personality (I have an MFA too). Other negative reviews complained this focuses on negative aspects of Army family life.

I understand where they were coming from but don't agree. The polish earned from an MFA is just that - polish and skill. So it's not a negative unless education and training are somehow considered a bad thing.

I was a soldier, and almost none of Fallon's fictional narratives rang falsely or contrived. If they didn't happen to me, they happened to someone I knew. The crummy homecomings, the stress, the fear and frustration. I understand that many readers would want stories that focus on the positive, but at least from my point of view, I'm not emotionally affected by "positive" stories. I don't read fiction for the happy ending, because it usually won't make me feel anything special. These are stories about men at war and women at home, and if they aren't heartbreaking, I'm not sure what the point would be.

A couple of the stories didn't ring false, but weren't as strong as others. A couple do end very abruptly, and while I don't expect to have my hand held, I do prefer a solid conclusion. But, short stories don't always exist to give the reader a complete conclusion - they exist as moments of time.

But, any small complaints aside, I really liked these stories. She presented fully-realized characters who came across as real people living believable representations of events. I cared about the characters, and I liked how Fallon connected the stories together with their repeated appearances across the stories. Sometimes it was just a subtle repetition of a name; other characters were equally pivotal in multiple stories, but in different ways.

It would be a shame if concerns about the "negative" storylines steered readers away - and I'm not sure Fallon's fellow Army wives or other veterans are the best audience anyway. They don't really need Fallon's made-up stories about what they lived through.

But after 10 years of war, there's value here to NON-military readers. Most of the stories are heartbreaking and sad, but that's what happens when you're 21 and you get your foot blown off, and then your wife leaves you. It isn't happy. It is sad. And guess what - it happens, and not that rarely.

So, fictionally, this is as close as most readers will come to those kind of hard days, but at least it will open that window a tiny bit.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 10, 2011
when the soldiers of the 1-7 Cav, an infantry battalion based at Ft. Hood, a sprawling, desolate spot of land in Texas, are deployed to Iraq. Immediately a deadening silence envelops the base; the men are gone - the routines, movements, and noise associated with soldiering disappear. The lives of the wives and children quickly become hollowed: persevering becomes the primary activity. While the disruption to lives is upsetting enough, it is the psychological toll on both the wives and the husbands that is the concern of the author. In these eight powerful, terse, and somewhat interconnected stories, the distress and concerns of those caught in the nightmare of Iraqi deployment are palpable.

It is understandable that the lack of quick, precise information is frustrating for those left behind - the constant not knowing - but the overriding fear is the ever present possibility of a husband suddenly being severely wounded or worse. While such fear is hardly to be dismissed, perhaps of even greater concern, actually to both, is whether a marriage, a relationship, can withstand a year-long separation under such trying circumstances on both ends. These stories hauntingly bring home the reality of those types of concerns.

Under this sort of duress, the psychological dynamics can obviously play havoc with relationships. It takes little imagination to recognize that there is always the real possibility of a wife finding, perhaps inadvertently, security and/or love from another man. The other half of that potentiality is the paranoia so easily induced in those some 7000 miles distant - seen in one of the author's scenarios. Having little to do with unfaithfulness, some wives decide that the reduced, lonely life essentially forced on them by military demands is too high of a price to pay. In one story, a wife sadly, but resolutely, leaves her husband despite his returning from Iraq with a serious injury. While an intense combat zone may seem an unlikely place for a soldier to find female companionship, it is not difficult to see that unbearable loneliness and isolation can result in a soldier stepping across a forbidden line. All communications - letters, email, video-hookups - are fraught with and scanned for such possibilities: do reassurances of love ring true.

The author's direct approach, her ability to lay bare the emotions of those in this situation, makes these stories very compelling, even unforgettable. Routine activities such as grocery shopping are done mechanically to get through days, to forget, and to hope that time will speed up. One of the wives thinks of the world being split three ways: her husband's life in Iraq; her lonely life in Ft. Hood; and the "dim fantastical life of them together."

Despite the brevity of the stories - the book is easily read in a day - the author does paint some haunting portraits. There is the motherless child who befriends a Serbian bride and who ends up with more than she expected; there is the squad leader on leave who finds his girlfriend to be immature and cannot wait to return to his perilous life including a budding friendship with a female Iraqi interpreter. The author's firsthand knowledge of these excruciating times, as the wife of a deployed soldier, is clearly evident in these heartfelt stories.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Sometimes a book calls to me and I am completely swept away. Nothing else matters - I am so caught up in the book that I can barely come up for air. Such was the case with Siobahn Fallon's You Know When the Men Are Gone. This book of intersecting short stories, each of which can stand alone, is a tour de force. It is about Fort Hood - the women who wait for their men to come home from deployment, the men who fight for our country in Iraq, the small issues in marriage that are large enough to break a soul apart. Each of these stories is powerful. There is no weak link in this book. Each of the stories is a literary gem and each held me spellbound. Most of the stories deal with the theme of waiting, "that interminable waiting, waiting, waiting for her life to continue - such a long gray nothingness between departure and return, huge chunks of existence she filled up and pushed through as if it were a task rather than a stretch of her young life - would be over. There was such an unreality to the waiting, such limbo, sometimes she didn't even know what she was waiting for."

All the stories are about Fort Hood, Texas and the military families that reside or work there. The title story is about the wives of the military men. They take care of their own but their world is insular. When a foreign born army wife with minimal command of the English language, little understanding of cooking, unable to read directions and with a dog like Cujo comes into their midst, she challenges their solidarity and her every movement becomes an object of interest or suspicion. In 'Camp Liberty', an American soldier grows to care for his Iraqi translator. When she disappears, his world is torn apart. In 'Remission', a military wife deals with breast cancer along with the tribulations of raising an adolescent daughter. 'Inside the Break' is a powerful story of a military wife who hacks into her husband's e-mail. She discovers a secret that is almost impossible to come to terms with. In 'The Last Stand', a wounded soldier returns from Iraq and realizes that the wife he loves is leaving him. 'Leave' is about a military intelligence officer who returns on leave from Iraq to spy on his own wife. 'You Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming' tells of a marriage at risk after a soldier is jailed overnight with no memory of what occurred.

Siobhan Fallon, in an interview with Bookbrowse.com states that there is a lot of literature about the battlefield but not much about the home front. She is a military wife and knows that soldiers have families waiting for them at home, "all of them worrying, grieving and hoping their soldier will return to them. Those stories are fascinating to me, all those moments that lead up to a deployment as well as the moments that follow a homecoming, and I wanted to show readers that very specific and somewhat neglected world." Ms. Fallon does just that in this poetic, powerful, and brilliant book.
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