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You Know When the Men Are Gone (Fallon)

You Know When the Men Are Gone
Siobhan Fallon, 2011
Penguin Group USA
2011 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780399157202

Summary 
Reminiscent of Raymond Carver and Tim O'Brien, an unforgettable collection of interconnected short stories.

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 in Fort Hood, Texas. Through a series of loosely interconnected stories, Siobhan Fallon takes readers onto the base, inside the homes, into the marriages and families-intimate places not seen in newspaper articles or politicians' speeches.

When you leave Fort Hood, the sign above the gate warns,"You've Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming". It is eerily prescient. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Siobhan Fallon lived at Fort Hood while her husband, an Army major, was deployed to Iraq for two tours of duty. She earned her MFA at the New School in New York City. Fallon lives with her family near the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. (From the publisher.)



Book Reviews
Siobhan Fallon tells gripping, straight-up, no-nonsense stories about American soldiers and their families. It's clear from her tender yet tough-minded first book, You Know When the Men Are Gone, that she knows this world very well. The reader need not look at Ms. Fallon's biography to guess that she, like her book's characters, has spent time living in Fort Hood, Tex., watching the effects of soldiers' leave-takings and homecomings on men and the wives they leave behind.
Janet Maslin - New York Times


Terrific and terrifically illuminating…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. Challenging as the subject matter may be, this is a brisk read. Fallon's sentences are fleet and trim. Her near-journalistic austerity magnifies the dizzying impact of the content.
Lily Burana - Washington Post


A haunting collection likely to inform and move many readers, whether they are familiar with the intricacies of military life or not. Though the everyday experience of the women waiting for their husbands to come home may be a sense of muted life, these stories pulse with the reality of combat and its domestic repercussions.
Jessica Treadway - Boston Globe


Fallon, who earned an MFA in writing from the New School in New York, gives a compassionate yet unflinching portrait of the modern-day home front. She knows the world well, having spent two of her husband's deployments among the waiting wives. In You Know When the Men Are Gone, she reminds us of the outsized burden our military families carry, that the overseas casualty counts carried in newscasts can never tell the whole truth. 
De Turenne - Los Angeles Times


Surely marks the beginning of a major career.... [Fallon] 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 - San Francisco Chronicle


The crucial role of military wives becomes clear in Fallon's powerful, resonant debut collection, where the women are linked by absence and a pervading fear that they'll become war widows. In the title story, a war bride from Serbia finds she can't cope with the loneliness and her outsider status, and chooses her own way out. The wife in "Inside the Break" realizes that she can't confront her husband's probable infidelity with a female soldier in Iraq; as in other stories, there's a gap between what she can imagine and what she can bear to know. In "Remission," a cancer patient waiting on the results of a crucial test is devastated by the behavior of her teenage daughter, and while the trials of adolescence are universal, this story is particularized by the unique tensions between military parents and children. One of the strongest stories, "You Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming," attests to the chasm separating men who can't speak about the atrocities they've experienced and their wives, who've lived with their own terrible burdens. Fallon writes with both grit and grace: her depiction of military life is enlivened by telling details, from the early morning sound of boots stomping down the stairs to the large sign that tallies automobile fatalities of troops returned from Iraq. Significant both as war stories and love stories, this collection certifies Fallon as an indisputable talent.
Publishers Weekly


civilians will ever experience: Fort Hood, TX. Fort Hood is a place where husbands and fathers pack their gear and leave for deployments of a year or longer. Left behind are the families, and each of the eight stories describes a different spouse or family coping with such a prolonged absence. The wife and mother with breast cancer, the teenage bride, the young mother, the Serbian wife who speaks little English—each deals with the stress and loneliness of her husband's deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan in her own way. Some isolate themselves, choosing to live off base or move back in with their families. Others embrace the company and support of other army wives and attend Family Readiness Group meetings. This might be a work of fiction, but Fallon's work is remarkably real, and each story's characters immediately grip the reader. Verdict:  Excellent; even readers who do not usually read short stories should seek out this book.—Shaunna Hunter, Hampden-Sydney Coll. Lib., VA
Library Journal


In an accomplished debut story collection, Fallon lays bare the lonely lives of military families when the men go to war. In these eight loosely connected tales, the families of Fort Hood, Texas, wait for their men to come home. That waiting, filled with anxiety, boredom and sometimes resentment, creates a Godot-like existence, in which real life begins only when a soldier's deployment ends. In the title story, young Meg, her husband in Iraq, becomes obsessed with her neighbor Natalya, a glamorous Serbian with little English and two babies, doubly isolated in Fort Hood. Meg presses her ear to their shared wall and eventually hears the voice of a strange man. In "The Last Stand," a soldier returns from Iraq permanently injured, to a wife tired of the strains of army life. She brings him to a hotel and then buys him breakfast before notifying him of their imminent divorce, their marriage a casualty of the war. In "Leave," Officer Nick Cash suspects his wife is cheating on him. On his scheduled leave home from Iraq, he tells his wife he has to stay at the front, but then secretly returns to Fort Hood, breaks into the basement of his own house and hides there for a week, waiting for the truth with a knife in his hand. In "Camp Liberty," the only story to take place largely in Iraq, David Mogeson, an investment banker who joined up after 9/11, befriends Raneen, a female interpreter. Back home on leave, he is bored by his longtime girlfriend and overwhelmed by a lifestyle of privilege, but when he returns to Iraq (and fantasies of building something with Raneen), he discovers she's been kidnapped, an all-too-common fate for interpreters. Fallon reveals the mostly hidden world of life on base for military families, and offers a powerful, unsentimental portrait of America at war. A fresh look at the Iraq war as it plays out on the domestic front.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. In the first story, "You Know When the Men Are Gone," why does the narrator develop such an obsession with her neighbor? While it turns out that Natalya is worthy of Meg's scrutiny, is it easier for Meg to be a nosy neighbor than for her to focus on the danger her husband faced overseas?

2. Infidelity is a recurring theme in many of the stories. Did this surprise you?

3. Most of the stories take place in Fort Hood. Why do you think "Camp Liberty" is included in the collection if it takes place in Iraq? Is it in keeping with the other stories?

4. In "Camp Liberty," "Leave," and "The Last Stand," the main characters are men. Does that change the feel from the rest of the collection, which is primarily from a female point of view?

5. Many of the stories in You Know When the Men Are Gone are about the relationships between men and women. How would these stories change if the protagonists were flipped? If, say, "Inside the Break" was told from Manny's point of view instead of Kailani's? Or if "Leave" followed Trish instead of Nick?

6. In "The Last Stand," why does Helena sleep with Kit in the hotel room? Do you find her sympathetic?

7. In "Remission," Ellen feels that she is pitied by the other wives because of her cancer, but considered lucky because her husband has not been deployed. Does either of these circumstances outweigh the other? Is there a sliding scale of "tragedy" and "luck" in the lives of the families in Fort Hood? In your own life?

8. "Inside the Break" mentions pamphlets with such titles as "Roadmap to Reintegration," "What to Expect When Deployed Soldiers Return," and "Communicating with Your Spouse." Is it possible to sum up, in writing, the vast emotional landscape that families and soldiers experience upon the soldiers' return? Do you think Siobhan Fallon attempted to do that with this collection? If you think so, did she succeed?

9. What do you think the husband does at the end of "Leave"?

10. In "You've Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming," the sign refers to drunk driving, but do you think the author intends it as a metaphor for more?

11. In the same story, toward the end, Fallon writes: "Their fate depended on whether Carla walked out of the room with the baby or stood next to her husband. She bit her lip and wondered if this was the sum of a marriage: wordless recriminations or reconciliations, every breath either striving against or toward the other person, each second a decision to exert or abdicate the self." Do you agree with this take on marriage? Or do you think it's applicable only under extreme circumstances?

12. Which is your favorite story, and why?

13. Obviously the stories in You Know When the Men Are Gone are tied together by Fort Hood. What other themes do the stories share?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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