By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
When former Fort Hood resident Siobhan Fallon began writing "You Know When the Men Are Gone," released Thursday by Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, she didn't know it would become a critically acclaimed book of short stories.
In fact, she didn't know it would become a book at all.
Because of that, she said in a recent telephone interview, the loosely interrelated stories in her debut book are an authentic exploration of Army life in a time of war.
"I was just really working out this idea of this woman listening to people through a wall," Fallon, 38, said of writing the book's title story, about a woman who becomes obsessed with the Serbian woman living next door.
While the story's main character, Meg, literally listens to her mysterious neighbor through a wall at their Fort Hood apartment complex, it is the reader who has an ear up to Meg's more metaphysical walls, erected during her husband's deployment.
"'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," Fallon writes, capturing the strange ellipses Army marriages entail.
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. She began writing the book while living in Harker Heights during that time.
"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. "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."
Fallon, a New York native who will soon move to Jordan with her husband, a former infantry and current foreign area officer, will appear at Barnes and Noble in Harker Heights at 7 p.m. 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 email@example.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.