Review: You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

January 18, 2011 General Fiction, Literary Fiction, Memoir, Putnam 10

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (January 20, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0399157204
  • Source: Publisher

At Fort Hood, TX dozens of women are awaiting the safe return of their husbands from war.  They form a close-knit community, linked together by the feeling of loneliness and concern about the fate of their husbands.  In You Know When the Men Are Gone, Siobhan Fallon uses her own experience as a Fort Hood wife to detail the stories of women forced to deal with this separation from their spouses.  While the stories are fictional, the experiences they detail are real.

Meg is a young wife who deals with the absence of her husband by becoming obsessed with the activities of her neighbor, a Serbian woman who met her husband when he was stationed in Kosovo.

David “Moge” Mogeson joined the army after 9/11.  Typically, men like him counted down the days til their tour was over.  They fought out of need to contribute to a cause, but not necessarily as a career.  When his Sergeant is injured, Moge becomes the acting squad leader. He now leads the men he bunked with.  The squad’s interpreter quits & they are assigned a new, female interpreter-Raneen. At first Moge is apprehensive about this assignment, but Raneen proves that she is strong to the core and becomes an integral part of the squad.

When Moge goes home on leave, he discovers that Iraq has become a part of him.  He can’t survive in the “real world” and misses the sweltering temperatures and dust-filled air. With the fear of death constantly weighing on him and death & destruction surrounding him, is he a braver man for leaving versus staying?

Ellen doesn’t have to deal with her husband’s absence.  When his chain of command learned of her diagnosis & the surgery required, John was appointed to rear detachment commander.  This position allowed him to stay at home.  That’s not to say Ellen didn’t have anything to worry about, a war was raging in her body.  Her relationship with their teen was rocky as well.  Her story details that the effects of war can be felt at home just as much, if not more, than overseas.

When Kailani doesn’t hear from her husband for several days she becomes worried enough to log into his email account to see if he’s received her communications.  What she sees stuns her; a female officer has been sending elicit emails to her husband.  He denies it, stating the email was meant for another officer.  When he comes home, she tries to forget it.  She’s luckier than many army wives.  Her husband has returned safely, without injury.  Anything that happened overseas an be forgotten.

These examples are just a snippet of the lives affected by war.  We all see images of war on the nightly news; stories of explosions & deaths. How often do we really get to see the families of the soldiers & what they have to face as a “victim” of war?  Fallon gives us a glimpse inside this hidden side of war.  Soldiers aren’t the only casualties of war, the families supporting them are forced to deal with a completely different war on a daily basis.

Fallon also describes the close-knit relationships shared by military wives, of the strength and power held by these women:

“…thoughts of a deployment color every aspect of a military spouse’s life. When we meet another spouse for the first time, we ask ‘How many times has your soldier deployed?’  It is a way to compare years of experience in a few short sentences. It is our way, without the obvious map of a soldier’s uniform, to check out the medals on on the other spouse’s chest, to know what she, too, has survived and what she is made of.”

I’m not a military wife.  I’m lucky to have my husband by my side everyday. While the women in these stories are fictitious, their stories are not.  I’m proud of what these women have faced & survived, proud of what the endured for the sake of our freedom.

I urge you to pick up a copy of You Know When the Men Are Gone. Even if, like me, you aren’t a part of an army family, the stories of these army families will forever resonate in your soul. Highly recommended.

10 Responses to “Review: You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon”

  1. Heather
    Twitter: BookAddictHeath

    My younger brother is in the Marines, and he’s just about to go for his first deployment. He’s not married but he does have a serious girlfriend at home, who will be waiting patiently for him to return. You’ve totally convinced me to read this book!

  2. Kay

    I live just down the highway from Ft. Hood in Austin and my dad was retired Army. My parents drove there for medical checkups and shopping at the BX. After they were older, I drove them and it’s an interesting place. Thanks for sharing about this book. I’m going to order it for my Kindle. I think I will enjoy it and relate to some of the family dynamics.

  3. Meg
    Twitter: writemeg

    Sounds like a moving, powerful read — and I can’t wait to pick it up! It’s been in my TBR pile for a little bit and has been calling to me. Definitely moreso after reading your review!

  4. jm
    Twitter: occasionallyzen

    Just heard her on the radio this afternoon! Sounds like a must-read.

  5. bermudaonion (Kathy)

    I’m really anxious to read this one. As a military brat, I know what sacrifices the families of service members make and I’m glad to see they’re finally getting some recognition.