Century upon century, during wars, women have waited for the men to return home, and the men, between battles, have yearned to come home to their wives and families. You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon is about the military men and women, their spouses and families who are involved in our present wars. She opens this book with a quote from one of the older war epics, The Odyssey, as Penelope sees Odysseus, ". . .yes, clearly--like her husband but sometimes blood and rags were all she saw." Fallon has first-hand knowledge of what it is to wait because she lived at Fort Hood while her husband was in Iraq for two tours of duty. Everyone is changed by war--those who wait and those who fight.
This is not a novel but a series of interconnected stories about the lives of women, living on an army base: a serviceman's wife, Natalya, whose perplexing behavior upsets the other wives until Meg realizes this woman has been through her own war in Serbia; David Mogeson is a former investment banker who joined up after 9/11, filled with certitude about the enemy until interacting with Iraqi interpreters; Carla who forgets to leave a bottle for her hungry infant because she is distracted by another pressing matter; a returning soldier who finally tells his wife about his recurring nightmares; Meg who realizes a potent truth that she and her husband were living three lives: his in battle, hers on the base and the third one somewhere in the future where they would resume some type of life together. There are more ordinary parts of life such as army housing, where the living quarters are so close there is no separation and privacy from other families, which can be beneficial or detrimental.
These stories are not a polemic for or against war and the military, but are incisive, loving and sometimes humorous about the men, women and families who are a part of today's wars. Fallon also portrays the universal truth that these are brave, dedicated, strong people who are changed, in ways they never could imagine, from what war exacts on those who are on the battlefield and the homefront.