Tuesday, March 15, 2011

You Know When the Men are Gone

Title: You Know When the Men are Gone
Author: Siobhan Fallon
ISBN: 9780399157202
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books

The news is spattered with stories of our soldiers, but not necessarily of their personal lives. You Know When the Men are Gone, a new novel from Siobhan Fallon, gives readers just that: a glimpse into the lives of soldiers and their families. Fallon, herself a military spouse, focuses her novel on Fort Hood, Texas.

            In a series of interconnected stories, readers are introduced to a variety of characters and situations that are wonderfully realistic and, at times, terribly tragic. None of the characters come across as stagnant or stereotypical, nor do their stories. Fallon carefully balances the story of a woman who believes her husband may be having an affair overseas with stories of men afraid (sometimes rightfully) that their wives are being unfaithful. Readers are shown wonderfully joyful homecomings, unhappy homecomings, and families who simply struggle to readjust.
            Throughout these eight stories, Fallon deals with not only issues of fidelity and trust, but also with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Not all of the soldiers show signs of PTSD, but the ones who do are shown in a sympathetic light: one soldier becoming angry at news that a marketplace he frequented has been bombed, other soldiers suffering from terrible nightmares. None of the men are actually diagnosed with PTSD, though some of the wives wonder if that’s the cause of their husbands’ troubles. There is no judgment for their behavior, other than shock and occasionally anger. Instead Fallon delicately brings to light the sad truth that sometimes war follows you home.
            The families of these stories are all living in Fort Hood, Texas, while their soldiers are stations in Iraq. Connecting them all is the quiet, unrelenting (though often unspoken) fear that their soldiers will not come home. Sadly, though realistically, not all of the men survive. In the first story, “You Know When the Men are Gone,” readers hear of a soldier, known vaguely to the tale’s main character, who is killed when their Humvee hits a bomb. In later stories, readers see the fuller repercussions of his actions: the soldier he saved struggling to readjust to civilian life in spite of devastating injuries as well as his young widow fighting to cope with the loss of her husband and the attention of being a military widow.
            Fallon’s novel is brilliant: subtle, alternately breaking and warming the heart, and, above all, demonstrating the courage and inspiration to be drawn from our soldiers as well as their families. You Know When the Men are Gone is a wonderful book and will give readers a greater appreciation for military families and soldiers and all that they sacrifice.

            For readers who’d like a breakdown of each story:
            “You Know When the Men are Gone”: Meg Brady eagerly awaits her husband’s return. Desperate to think of anything but the worry surrounding her husband and his fate, Meg becomes somewhat obsessed by Natalya, the Serbian-born wife of another soldier, whose loneliness leads to suspiciously late hours and strange phone calls.
            Camp Liberty”: David “Moge” Mogeson, an investment banker who enlisted after 9/11, forms a tenuous friendship with a female Iraqi interpreter and debates whether to re-enlist or get out of the military.
            “Remission”: Ellen Roddy awaits news of whether or not her cancer is still in remission. Her teenage daughter, suddenly rebellious, disappears with her five-year old brother. Ellen is grateful that her husband is posted at the base and not deployed, but wonders how it is that her family is falling apart even with him there.
            “Inside the Break”: Kailani Rodriguez is desperate to hear from her husband Manny after the base’s other company is attacked. Her desperation leads her to reading his email, where she finds an email from a female soldier that causes her to question Manny’s fidelity.
            “The Last Stand”: Specialist Kit Murphy has barely survived the war and is returning home, injured, following an attack. His life was spared only due to the sacrifice of another soldier. He returns and wonders whether his young wife still loves him and wants to be with him, and what his life will be if she walks away.
            “Leave”: In the darkest story, Chief Warrant Officer Nick Cash believes his wife is having an affair. Certain that the only way to get the truth is to observe and catch her in the act, Nick secretly comes home and hides for days in his own basement. Nick has planned out what he will do if he’s wrong: sneak out, go to the airport, and pretend to surprise his wife and young daughter there. What he doesn’t know is what he will do if his suspicions are confirmed.
            “You Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming”: Carla Wolenski’s husband has returned home. At the start of the tale, Carla must pick him up following a night in jail, though she’s uncertain as to why he’s there. Carla struggles to understand Ted and his behavior and wonders what it will mean for their family.
            “Gold Star”: Josie Schaeffer has become what all the military spouses fear: a military widow. Her husband died in an attack and Josie is left alone with her grief. As she struggles to cope, she is visited by the soldier whose life her husband saved.

--Kyla Paterno

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