Tuesday, March 1, 2011

You Know When the Men Are Gone

You Know When the Men Are Gone is a series of linked short stories set at Fort Hood, Texas, among the soldiers deployed (many for the second or third time) in Iraq or Afghanistan and their wives. In the title story, Meg Brady becomes obsessed with her new neighbor--a Serbian woman with toddler twins and a large dog that barks loudly. The only food Natalya seems able to cook is cabbage, and her parenting skills seem a bit lacking. Meg agrees to babysit the twins the night before the husbands are due home, and what Natalya does next is a surprise.

Two stories deal with infidelity. In "Inside the Break," Kailani hacks into her husband's email and finds reason to suspect that he is sleeping with a female soldier while deployed. "Leave" presents the opposite case--Chief Warrant Officer Nick Cash suspects his wife is cheating while he is deployed. He pretends that he has given up his leave, but comes home and camps out in the basement, waiting for evidence that he is wrong--or right.

Other stories focus on the process of reintegrating when the deployment ends. In "The Last Stand," Kit Murphy has returned home with a severe foot injury, only to discover that his wife just wants to go home to her parents (where she has lived during his deployment) and "start all over again. . . . Alone." Carla Wolenski and her husband, a company commander, struggle to understand what each has gone through while apart--she has given birth, he has seen unthinkable pain. Their story is titled "You Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming."

The collection ends with "Gold Star," in which Josie Schaeffer is trying to cope with her husband's death and the gradual loss of her sensory memories of his physical presence.

Siobhan Fallon knows the territory she is writing about--she is an Army wife who lived at Fort Hood while her husband was deployed twice to Iraq. The stories are brutally honest and are both moving and troubling. As the United States approaches ten years at war, anyone who wants to understand how serving in the military affects families should read this book. . . . and wait for a similar book about the experiences of women soldiers and their spouses. I only wish Fallon had devoted a bit more attention to the children of soldiers.

Favorite passage:
She kissed his forehead, leaving her lips pressed near his hairline until he moved away, nestling deep under his covers. Ellen knew that soon he wouldn't let her kiss him goodnight anymore, that there was a time limit on a child's affection, that each year, month, week, day, whittled away at it until he, too, would stretch and grow out of childhood and into something prickly and strange.

He would put his big hands around her back, and she felt enclose din his strength and knew he was hers again, at least for a little while. But now she had forgotten the texture of his uniform under her cheek, the sound of his boots slipping off his feet and hitting the floor, the feel of his fingertips on her back. She was losing him all over again.

No comments:

Post a Comment