Pozhar-golava: A Russian term for a psychic awareness of others' feelings, and the subject of this dark, death-haunted first novel from a young Texan. The journal entries that comprise the book cover four months in the life of 27-year old Nicholas Dal, a student in Gunnison, Colorado, and an American whose grandfather emigrated from Russia. Nicholas is the permanent outsider, and not just because of his Russian origins; like all his male forbears, he possesses pozhar-golava To compound his problems, there is a dark family secret, not fully revealed until the end; in Russia in the 1920's, a great-uncle Mikhail went mad, killing most of the family until subdued by brother Fyodor, who then left for America. The surviving Dais took on Mikhail's guilt; Nicholas' guilt is so acute that he has had a vasectomy, drinks heavily to lower his sensitivity, and struggles against the tug of death. The journal entries describe the impact on him of two women: Jack Berdo, a fellow-student, and her mother Susanne, dying of cancer. Nicholas has an affair with Jack; when she questions his high vodka intake, he strings her along with vague references to a vasectomy for a ""genetic defect"" (wouldn't she head for the hills at that point?). Anyway, her sensual warmth proves no match for her mother's death-pull. ""Take me with you,"" he pleads to Susanne, and she almost does, for her agonies induce two seizures in Nicholas, the ""fire in the head"" of his great-uncle. After her death Nicholas is rescued from catatonia by a shrink, hitherto avoided as a hostile inquisitor; Nicholas may heal after all. The charged encounters between Nicholas and Susanne, showing the power of pozhar-golava, are the core of this provocative but very uneven debut. Unfortunately, they get less attention than the less credible Nicholas/Jack relationship, while the melodramatic, delayed-revelation plot is quite the wrong vehicle for material of this inherent power.