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Army wife’s book of short stories comes out Thursday

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Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 12:00 pm

By Colleen Flaherty

Fort Hood Herald

Former Fort Hood spouse Siobhan Fallon hears a common refrain from her friends and family in the civilian world.

"'Oh, I could never survive a deployment,'" she said, quoting them. "Army wives just have to shrug and say, 'Oh, you find a way, time flies, you keep busy.' These adages fly off our tongues."

But behind those scripts lies a quiet but churning world of worry, doubt, love and wonder that's almost impossible to capture in words.

Almost.

In her debut book of short stories, "You Know When the Men Are Gone," to be released Thursday by Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, Fallon, 38, artfully records the hidden places Fort Hood Army wives - and a few soldiers - go when they're not putting up a brave face.

While some of Fallon's stories are starkly and beautifully mundane, others take the reader to and beyond a psychological edge most Army spouses will only ever glimpse from a safe distance. But there's a layer of resonant truth in every story that enables the reader to fully engage it. "You Know When the Men Are Gone" is definitely not standard-issue Army "chick lit."

Much of that comes from Fallon's talent as a writer. She received her master of fine arts degree in creative writing from The New School in New York City just after meeting the United States Military Academy graduate who would become her husband.

The other half of her success is her obvious knowledge of her subject matter. She has lived through three of her husband's deployments, two out of Fort Hood between 2006 and 2009.

"Ellen tried not to be angry at John for worrying about soldiers, the children of strangers, more than his own as she drove laps around the streets of Fort Hood: Tank Destroyer, Hell-on-Wheels, Old Ironsides, Audie Murphy Drive," she writes in the story called "Remission," about a woman dealing with breast cancer and the isolation it creates. Her daughter is inexplicably hateful toward her and, because her husband is the rear detachment commander during his unit's deployment to Iraq, Ellen feels a sense of guilt while interacting with other wives.

"She drove for so long that she was overcome with nausea. She had never had motion sickness before being struck with cancer, as if the abnormal and conflagrant cells and their subsequent removal had disturbed her center of gravity, pitching all of her fixed references askew so that even the horizon no longer seemed straight."

Shortly after her husband's first deployment to Iraq, in 2006, Fallon became her unit's FRG leader. In her free time, she began writing what would become her book's namesake story, "You Know When the Men Are Gone."

In it, Meg, a childless young wife, becomes obsessed with the mysterious woman from Kosovo who lives next door, a welcome distraction from a life empty of her husband.

"'I miss our life together,' her husband would write over and over again, and it made Meg think that there were three lives between them: the life he was leading in Iraq, the life she was living alone without him, and the dim and fantastical life of them together, a mythical past and future that suddenly had no present," she writes.

"I had no idea I was working on a collection," Fallon said of writing Meg's story. "I was just really working out this idea of this woman listening to people through a wall."

That's the idea one gets from the rest of the book's loosely interrelated stories: listening to people - from the noncommissioned officer who itches his way through the niceties of his mid-tour leave, to the woman who suspects her deployed husband of cheating - through the walls they put up in a time of war.

Fallon, a New York native who will soon move to Jordan with her husband, a former infantry and current Army foreign area officer, will appear at Barnes & Noble in Harker Heights at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Copies of the book, which has been positively reviewed by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, National Public Radio and the New York Times, among other outlets, will be available for purchase.

Contact Colleen Flaherty at colleenf@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.

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