Monday, January 10, 2011

2010 Top 10: You Know When the Men Are Gone

Final in the series of reviews of my 10 favorite books read in 2010, presented in alphabetical order.

You Know When the Men Are Gone
by Siobhan Fallon
In Fort Hood housing, like all army housing, you get used to hearing through the walls. You learn your neighbors’ routines: when and if they gargle and brush their teeth; how often they go to the bathroom or shower; whether they snore or cry themselves to sleep. You learn too much. And you learn to move quietly through your own small domain.

You also know when the men are gone.
Those opening lines hooked me into this terrific collection of short stories that are linked through a shared setting of Fort Hood, Texas, its soldiers who are deployed to Iraq, and their spouses and families who stay behind. The first story sets up military domestic life and that too-closeness to neighbors and authority. The next follows a soldier serving outside Baghdad -- an investment banker who enlisted after 9/11. Others explore suspicions of adultery; wounded soldiers returning early; the difficulty of re-acclimating to home; the public honor and private grief of widowhood.

They’re personal stories, not political, and they're gentle and straightforward, to be re-read more for comfort than for a layered understanding. But they’re some of the most engaging reading I’ve encountered ... in fact their readability reminds me of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, the first book published by Penguin’s Amy Einhorn imprint which is now publishing this book.

Review based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher

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