Friday, August 24, 2012

Book Club: You Know When the Men Are Gone

On Tuesday evening, we met at N's place to discuss The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  N. served up a whole spread of cheese and crackers, dips and chips, little puff pastries and mini quiches.  The five of us sipped peach sparkling wine and sat on the deck, enjoying the late summer evening.

It seemed like many of us got a few nuggets of wisdom, ideas, advice from the book.  But at the same time, there were plenty of things that the author tried in her pursuit of greater happiness that didn't resonate with us personally.  As Rubin says, a happiness project is inherently personal.  Each person's idea of what happiness is and the sources from which they find happiness will be different.

I found it a little overwhelming how many daily/weekly activities or routines Rubin included.  Sure, she weeded some out along the way when she found they weren't working for her, but a ten-minute clean-up time, a daily entry in her gratitude journal, etc. sounded like a lot of work to keep up.  I think the trick is finding what brings happiness and meaning without adding a bunch of stuff to your to-do list.  And while it's admirable that Rubin fesses up to her weaknesses and bad habits in order to improve upon them, the focus on her negative aspects also made me wonder if we were seeing a full and accurate picture of who she really is.

Throughout the book, there were plenty of ideas that reminded me what's important.  By focusing on what really matters and remembering how life flies by, we can find greater joy in the everyday.  The smallest things can make the biggest impact, even if it's something as simple as laughing more, maintaining a clean and organized home, or actually using those "nice" things we store away for the "right" occasion (china, fancy clothes, etc).

C. asked me if I could relate more to the book because I'm a writer like Rubin is, especially the line "(Well, I don't actually love writing, but then practically no writer actually loves the writing part.)"  That statement certainly contains some truthwriting is hard, and while I love the end product, those bursts of creativity, those moments when the words come out just as I had hoped, it's a bit like exercise.  You feel great afterwards, sometimes you feel great during it, but it's tough to get started.  So perhaps in some ways, I can understand Rubin's work better as a fellow writer, but I think we are quite different people as far as personality.

Onto the next selection... we're going to read You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon, a collection of short stories about the lives of military families while they wait for their men to come home.

via Book Description:
Reminiscent of Raymond Carver and Tim O'Brien, an unforgettable collection of intercollected short stories.

In Fort Hood housing, like all army housing, you get used to hearing through the walls... You learn too much. And you learn to move quietly through your own small domain. You also know when the men are gone. No more boots stomping above, no more football games turned up too high, and, best of all, no more front doors slamming before dawn as they trudge out for their early formation, sneakers on metal stairs, cars starting, shouts to the windows above to throw them down their gloves on cold desert mornings. Babies still cry, telephones ring, Saturday morning cartoons screech, but without the men, there is a sense of muted silence, a sense of muted life.

There is an army of women waiting for their men to return in Fort Hood, Texas. Through a series of loosely interconnected stories, Siobhan Fallon takes readers onto the base, inside the homes, into the marriages and families-intimate places not seen in newspaper articles or politicians' speeches.

When you leave Fort Hood, the sign above the gate warns, You've Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming. It is eerily prescient.

From Publisher's Weekly (via Amazon):
The crucial role of military wives becomes clear in Fallon's powerful, resonant debut collection, where the women are linked by absence and a pervading fear that they'll become war widows. In the title story, a war bride from Serbia finds she can't cope with the loneliness and her outsider status, and chooses her own way out. The wife in "Inside the Break" realizes that she can't confront her husband's probable infidelity with a female soldier in Iraq; as in other stories, there's a gap between what she can imagine and what she can bear to know. In "Remission," a cancer patient waiting on the results of a crucial test is devastated by the behavior of her teenage daughter, and while the trials of adolescence are universal, this story is particularized by the unique tensions between military parents and children. One of the strongest stories, "You Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming," attests to the chasm separating men who can't speak about the atrocities they've experienced and their wives, who've lived with their own terrible burdens. Fallon writes with both grit and grace: her depiction of military life is enlivened by telling details, from the early morning sound of boots stomping down the stairs to the large sign that tallies automobile fatalities of troops returned from Iraq. Significant both as war stories and love stories, this collection certifies Fallon as an indisputable talent


  1. I am glad I am not the only one thinking it. I writing,but I do not always enjoy it. I have struggled with that reality for most of my "aware" life. "

    I like the sentence "Well, I don't actually love writing, but then practically no writer actually loves the writing part."

    My world is at its peak when i have "those bursts of creativity, those moments when the words come out just as I had hoped" It sure can be tough, but I do feel a lot better after I start.

  2. I like the writing part... most days.

    <>< Katie

  3. When you mentioned the book club, I thought you meant that's when the men are gone, like, "The book club, you know... when the men are gone."



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