Saturday, July 30, 2011

Short Story Saturday: You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

Welcome to Short Story Saturday, a semi-regular feature. The project stems from a desire to read more short stories. It's not a secret I prefer novels to short stories, but I'm working to stretch myself as a reader, and part of that will be reading more short stories. When I have read short story collections, I've often found them hard to review as a whole. This feature will allow me to review collections as a whole or separately, but I'll also be reviewing individual stories from a variety of sources.

You Know When the Men Are GoneThe 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 
Source: library

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  1. I have had a strange fascination with this book since it came out. Then I started to read some slightly negative reviews. It sort of feel off my radar for a few months, and then all of a sudden there was a resurgence of positive reviews that have made me want to pick it up again. It's so horrible that I am so fickle! I do eventually want to read this one at some point, because I think it sounds really unique and interesting. I am glad that you liked it too!

  2. I have an ARC of this one sitting in my TBR pile. Like you I'm a little hesitant to read short story collections, so I've been unfairly neglecting this one. However, your review has definitely convinced me to pick it up sooner than I would have. Thanks!

  3. This one has been on my list for awhile. I don't always love short story collections, but like you said, if there's a strong theme sometimes they work better.

  4. This was one of my favorite books this year. Loved your review.

    If you like stories, try In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin. Interrelated stories that take place in modern Pakistan. I think you'd like it!


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