Siobhan Fallon’s short story collection You Know When the Men Are Gone is a hauntingly good look at military life in the wake of war. Set on Fort Hood, Fallon’s characters survive deployments, infidelity and injury, all while their stories subtly interconnect.
What Fallon has done the best in this collection is provide a varied, broad look at the life of military families. She doesn’t just show the wives at home caring for children; she shows the soldiers at war, the emotional toll the separation takes on everyone on the base, the psychological turmoil that often comes home with the soldiers.
As someone who only glimpsed what life would have been like married to an active-duty soldier, I appreciated the honesty with which Fallon wrote these stories. I know what a military base looks like on a drive-through tour on a random weekday afternoon, and I know in part what it feels like to think about a deployed loved one every second of every day waiting for their safe return, but again– I only glimpsed this life. Many people will never experience the military lifestyle, so Fallon’s representation illustrates accurately what that life is like. Her characters seem real enough to touch, and their heartbreak is something the reader can feel.