Monday, January 31, 2011

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

Great novels expose us to ideas, places or experiences that we may not otherwise know about or have the ability to access.  The new novel, You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon, is eye-opening and a must read for anyone who wants to understand what it means to live a military life.

In 2001, when the armed forces were sent abroad to fight our wars against terror, the families of our armed service professionals were left behind--left behind to raise their children, deal with their illnesses and manage the day to day challenges of family life.  Alone.  Loneliness and longing envelop everyday existence.  Then, when the professionals come home, the reunions are often challenging.  A sign by the gates of Fort Hood warns, "You've Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming."

This series of loosely interwoven short stories was eye opening for me.  In one story, a woman must deal with her husband's infidelity.  In another, a cancer patient must deal with the results of a critical test and an unruly teenager.  In another, a warrior can't speak about the atrocities he has seen.  Finally, in one that I certainly can relate to, a New York City investment banker stoked with the idealism of fighting for freedom leaves his home and profession to enlist. 

The stories are compelling and piercing.  Fallon does not sensationalize the tragedies and challenges.  She expertly takes us into the lives of the soldiers and their families and friends and shows us the costs and burdens of our wars.  The writing is terse and loaded with tension.  While the stories themselves made me question whether we do enough for the soldiers that are deployed to protect our freedom, Fallon does not offer political views.  The stories speak for themselves.

Recommendation: I really enjoyed this (and I did not expect to).  It is a short and easy read but very powerful and compelling.  It will leave you sharing the families' sadness and wondering whether we do enough for our veterans

Author interview below.

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