Siobhan Fallon is the author of You Know When the Men Are Gone, a collection of short stories about the strange world of a military base during a deployment, coming out January 20, 2011 (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam). Stories in this collection have won the New Letters Fiction Prize, the Roanoke Review Fiction Contest and the Briar Cliff Review Award, and been nominated for a Pushcart. Fallon and her family lived in Fort Hood, Tex., while her husband was deployed twice to Iraq, and will be moving to the Middle East in spring 2011.
On your nightstand now:
My nightstand is a little schizophrenic. There's the galley of Rebecca Rasmussen's The Bird Sisters, which is coming out in April. I have pages and pages of it underlined, it is so lovely and good for dreaming. Anne Ylvisaker's Dear Papa; the narrator's voice is fresh and naturally conversational, something I am trying to achieve in a work-in-progress, and I like to go to sleep with her narrator in my head. Matt Gallagher's Kaboom, a war memoir. Not the best pre-sleep reading, but whenever I need to get my mind rooted on American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, I open it to any page and find myself vividly, excruciatingly, there. There's also a picture of my husband sleeping that I put on my nightstand the first time he deployed, back in 2004, so I could see him sleeping peacefully when I was getting in and out of bed. Now I keep that picture to remind myself how lucky I am that he is actually in the bed next to me these days, though the picture often ends up being used as a bookmark or a coaster. There are also eight stacked-up New Yorkers I keep thinking I will finally finish off.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Pippi Longstocking. I distinctly remember sitting in the closet of my bedroom with a flashlight, reading about Pippi and her adventures, very late at night, and my mother throwing the door open, furious that I was still awake. The jig was up after that. Any time my mom couldn't find me, she knew to look in the closet. She'd force me to go outside and play, as if reading was damaging my brain.
Your top five authors:
Flannery O'Connor, for stories that manage to disturb and redeem at the same time. Lorrie Moore. I think she and Flan O'Connor share that same eviscerating hilarity. I finish a story, wiping tears out of my eyes, unsure if I was laughing or crying, and then I can't fall asleep at night.
Jonathan Franzen for creating such enormous, amazing worlds that span decades. There are all these slim and pretty novels out there and suddenly he gives us a wallop and a slipped disc, carrying his break-your-book-bag-sized tomes around. Franzen seems to be the thoroughbred beast of American fiction these days and I think it is wonderful that his novels are getting such a wide range of readers.
Peter Carey. The man can write about anything, from the art world, hippies in the Outback, to My Life As a Fake, where a character literally steps off the page and into the flesh, and I, the reader, am with him every step of the way.
Wells Tower. I've only read his collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, but I thought it was remarkable. His use of language is completely new and vibrant. I think Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned should be required reading on every MFA reading list.
Book you've faked reading:
Most of the big Russians. I have read The Brothers Karamazov and Anna Karenina and I think that makes me expert on Russian literature without actually having the slightest clue.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Benjamin Percy's Refresh Refresh, his award-winning story collection. Or his latest novel, The Wilding. Actually, just about anything Percy writes. His fiction is taut and fearless, delving into the darkest places of human nature and relationships, but never hopeless. I also appreciate his willingness to remind the reader of what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, how our soldiers and their families are affected. He keeps the dialogue alive in a subtle, genuine way. Soldiers populate his stories and novel the way they do in an American town: a dad who is deployed while his teenage son wrestles with growing up; a bunch of Iraq vets drinking at a bar; a vet with a brain injury who may or may not go off the deep end. And Percy doesn't stop there, the guy is just tireless, he writes humorous vignettes in Esquire, stories about scaling trees in the Wall Street Journal, essays about the craft of writing in Poets and Writers, and he also teaches creative writing! I admire Percy immensely, his writing, his work ethic, the way he is plugged into the world.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The most beautiful book I've seen in a long time is Michael David Lukas's The Oracle of Stamboul. I managed to get my hands on the galley at the NCIBA conference and everything about it is absolutely gorgeous.
Book that changed your life:
Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier. I just love an unreliable narrator, and you can't get more unreliable than The Good Soldier. The narrator keeps telling the same story over and over again, but each version is insanely different, full of contradictions and half-truths; you can see the narrator trying on different shades of ignorance to decide how much clarity he can handle. Reading this book freed me as a writer, it demonstrated how human and limitless a story can be, and I feel like it changed my writing utterly.
Favorite line from a book:
"'Her voice is full of money,' he said suddenly. That was it. I'd never understood it before. It was full of money--that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it… High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl...."--The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Graham Greene's The End of the Affair. I read it every couple of years, trying to space out my revisits because I want it to surprise me again, and it always does. Part detective novel, part love story, part passion play, part meditation of the sacred and the profane. Every twist and turn is so unexpected. I would love to enter that book completely unaware and have those layers peeled back and revealed to me. If I was going to spend the rest of my life as a passenger on a Greyhound bus, and could only bring one book, that would be it.