Saturday, July 30, 2011
Short Story Saturday: You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon
The basics: You Know When the Men Are Gone is a loosely interconnected set of stories about soldiers and their families at Ft. Hood in Texas.
My thoughts: Although I'm not always a fan of short story collections, I'm beginning to think I do enjoy collections with a strong theme. After reading so many glowing reviews of this collection, I grabbed it off the shelf at the library one day and started reading. The first (and titular) story was engrossing. It introduced life on the base perfectly, and in some ways, it remains the most memorable for me.
As the collection continues, the action shifts to soldiers and back to the base. There are a variety of stories and characters. Although I would have loved the titular story to spawn a novel, I did appreciate the range Fallon showed in the rest of the collection. As each story ended, I eagerly began the next, as though it were a continuation of the same story. In some ways, it was. One of the reasons I'm a devoted fiction reader is to glimpse deeply into the minds and lives of others. You Know When the Men Are Gone shows a tapestry of life in the military and on a military base. It's a glimpse into the lingering effects of war on the lives of soldiers and their loved ones. One of my favorite moments came from an Iraqi woman working as a translator for U.S. troops: "No one notices the women in this country, and therefore no one notices how much the women notice." Even though characters rarely reappeared in other stories, the strength of the theme still gave me the experience of reading a novel.
Favorite passage: "I miss our life together, her husband would write over and over again, and it made Meg think that there were three lives between them: the life he was leading in Iraq, the life she was living alone without him, and the dim fantastical life of them together, a mystical past and future that suddenly had no present."
The verdict: Although I found some stories stronger than others, the collection was a cohesive whole and provided a mix of character-driven and plot-driven stories. Fallon is a talented writer, and I wished several of the stories could become novels.
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 240 pages
Publication date: January 20, 2011
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