cover image What Falls Away

What Falls Away

Tracy Daugherty. W. W. Norton & Company, $22.5 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03837-8

In the remote military town of Tilton, Nev., members of a civilian family rediscover their mutual bonds even as political conflict and nuclear hazards rend the community around them. Jon Chase, 44, doesn't know what he's getting himself and his family into when he takes a job as arts commissioner of Tilton. He soon realizes not only that it's foolish to produce Beckett's plays and to display abstract art in this hotbed of patriotic zealotry, but also that his family-which includes wife Peg, daughter Dana and son Scott, who suffers from Tourette's syndrome-are wildly out of place in the jingoistic town. In time, the frequent underground explosions that shake the family's temporary home frighten the children and prompt Peg to join the Navajo women who protest daily at the test site. Daugherty's (Desire Provoked) plotting strains credulity, especially as Jon continues to refuse to give up his frustrating job despite ever-more dire warnings: his first house is quarantined because of toxic seepage; he stumbles upon a secret weapons test; one of his friends disappears; another dies of radiation exposure. But the author writes good, solid prose and limns with sensitivity the emotional life of Jon's family, which is perhaps why this novel won the 1994 Associated Writing Programs Award for the Novel. (Feb.)