You Know When the Men are Gone by Siobhan Fallon was a random read. I came across it in the available e-book selections for my public library and the title caught my eye. I read the synopsis and was intrigued.
Fallon is a former military wife whose husband experienced multiple tours of duty in the Middle East, while she (and their child/children) remained stateside. Her collection of stories depicts life for the women behind the men in service (and a few dips into the experiences from the soldiers’ perspectives).
Fallon’s stories were diverse in that they explored about every imaginable scenario for a military spouse or family. There are widows (both figurative and literal). There are rebellious children. There are struggling marriages. There is infidelity. There are wounded men and women struggling to cope with a variety of challenges that this particular life path has thrown at them. While the breadth of situations was impressive, there weren’t really too many surprises. The emotions were genuine and candid, but the plots felt fairly predictable.
Take away for my writing:
The author here definitely writes what she knows. I hadn’t read the author’s bio prior to reading the stories, but by the end of the first story, I knew that she must be a military wife herself. Her depiction of the emotions and experiences (of which I admittedly have no familiarity or knowledge) were raw and authentic. She also threw in a few tiny twists here and there that I didn’t see coming (although not nearly as many as I would have liked), so that was something to remember. The stories were their strongest when the emotions were frank and straightforward. The stories became weak when they devolved into sentimentality, and often the conclusions felt canned or formulaic.
Strengths: Realistic experiences with effective emotion
Weaknesses: Predictability, sentimentality, and languid endings
Favorites: “Leave” and “Gold Star”
Least favorites: “Camp Liberty” and “Remission”