Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review: You Know When the Men are Gone

Summary: 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. -- Amy Einhorn

I absolutely loved YOU KNOW WHEN THE MEN ARE GONE by Siobhan Fallon! Even though I read this book in the middle of January, I am pretty sure that it's going to be one of my favorite books for 2011. This book was incredible and I can't rave enough about it. It has affected me like few books I've read in recent memory. Needless to say, I will be telling everyone I know that it is a must-read.

YOU KNOW WHEN THE MEN ARE GONE is actually a collection of stories about women who remain home at Fort Hood while their husbands are off fighting for our country. The reader gets an inside view into how these women deal with saying goodbye to their husbands as well as how they receive them when they finally arrive back home after their tours. In addition, there are stories that show how these women cope when their husbands are away -- their loneliness, their friendships with other wives, their relationships with other men, etc.

Now I'm the first to admit that I'm not a big fan of short stories (nor have I read many collections), but YOU KNOW WHEN THE MEN ARE GONE just might have changed all of that. I can't imagine enjoying (although appreciate is probably a better word) a book more than this one. And what I found even more odd about my love affair with this collection is that I usually have one or two stories that really stand out for me... and one or two that are kind of dingers. That wasn't the case with this book -- I loved all of the stories and I'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite (or even two.)

I hesitate to even try to write a review for this book because I know I can't do it justice. So I'm telling you to  JUST READ IT! However, I do feel that I need to feature some of the amazing things about these stories. First and foremost, Ms. Fallon's writing is just exquisite -- I loved how she brought these characters to life. I felt their pain, heartache and desperation; and while these characters were fictional in nature, I couldn't help but believe that their thoughts and feelings were so real. As I read these stories, I was so grateful that I have my husband near me (and safe) all of the time, however, my heart just broke for all of these families who sacrifice so much for everyone else. I'm pretty sure that I will never look at military families the same way again.

In addition, I think the author did a remarkable job of tying together the various stories. While each story definitely stands alone, the real power of the book is how they are work so well together. Each of the stories is interconnected, and many of the characters reappear throughout the various stories. What I absolutely adored is that the stories had a universal theme in showing the different ways that women (and their husbands) dealt with going overseas to war. Each family's reaction is as individual as the family, but they all rang true to me as a reader. I found that each story was painful to read for a variety of reasons, but I felt as if I couldn't judge any one person -- every story just broke my heart in one way or another.

I wish it were my turn to pick a book for my book club because I think YOU KNOW WHEN THE MEN ARE GONE is perfect for discussion. There is a reading guide available which delves more deeply into many of the topics I mentioned above. Some of the themes you might want to further explore include infidelity, marriage, tragedy, different coping mechanisms, luck, acceptance, resentment, and grief. These topics sound like "downers," but I think you'll agree that the book covers some extremely important issues and is well worth the time to read and discuss.

This book made me laugh and cry over and over again; and I know that the characters and their stories will remain in my thoughts for a very long time. YOU KNOW WHEN THE MEN ARE GONE is just one of those books that will change the way you see the world around you. Highly recommended!

Thanks the the publisher for sending me a copy of this book.

11 comments:

Amy said...

I also loved this collection! I felt like they didn't even seem like short stories. :) Great review, Julie!

anni.m said...

Your message has been heard and order has been placed at amazon, thanks! :)

Beth F said...

I am so happy this was a winner for you.

bermudaonion said...

I can hardly wait to read this book after that review!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I have definitely seen the light in terms of short stories. I think it takes a mountain of talent to create so much emotion in such a short number of pages. I just read Amy's review of this one as well, and I am hoping I have the perseverance to get it after The Dare is finished!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I should read this, since the movie Coming Home is one of my top ten favorites of all time!

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Gorgeous review!!!!

marthalama said...

I hadn't really thought I'd read this one but not I don't think I have a choice. It sounds like a can't miss.

Kay said...

I bought this one for my Kindle yesterday after reading another review. I live not far south of Ft. Hood and have been there many times driving my parents to medical appointments. Thanks for sharing!

Gayle Weiswasser said...

This arrived at my house yesterday and I can't wait to read it. Thanks for the review!

Swapna said...

Another one that bloggers seem to love, but this one I haven't read! Siobhan will be coming to DC for an event soon, so I really want to get to it before then.