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.
That is a snippet from You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon. This is a remarkable collection of short fiction from a debut author who draws on her own experiences as an army wife to bring life to her characters and truth to their stories. Centering on the relationships of military families coping with the deployment of husbands and fathers into harm's way in Iraq, each tale is simple but powerful and vividly real.
Eight interconnected stories take the reader on a tour of the army base at Fort Hood, Texas through the eyes and the hearts of the husbands and wives who live there and struggle to hold it all together in spite of fear, public scrutiny, infidelity, and crushing loneliness. The briefest synopsis of this collection can be summed up by a sign, described by Fallon, at the gate as you exit Fort Hood. It counsels: "You've Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming."
Overall, the book is a fast, engaging read that brings the damages of war home by focusing not on politics but on people who live with it every day. It is accessible, poignant, and well worth reading.
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