WHAT FALLS AWAY by Tracy Daugherty


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A struggling arts-commissioner and his performance-artist wife pit themselves against a weapons-testing Army base--in this bleak and largely unsatisfying second novel by the author of Desire Provoked (1986). Jon Case has enjoyed better posts, but the specter of dwindling funds for the arts nationwide and his own seemingly permanent unemployment convince him to accept the unlikely position of culture booster for Tilton, Nevada, 20 miles east of the Nevada Test Site. Populated entirely by military personnel and those who serve them, Tilton's residents are anxious about budget reductions and layoffs with the end of the Cold War. Jon has been hired to ease their anxiety through art, but even as he and his family set up house in a trailer on the edge of the desert, they feel the area's toxic atmosphere take hold. Underground nuclear explosions that shatter the desert silence, houses that sink into toxic goo, and the sudden death of a new friend whose brain was ""hard-boiled"" by an exhaust pipe from a plutonium-processing furnace--all prompt Jon's wife to organize women's protest dances at the edge of the Test Site, his daughter to escape into a superficial social life with local boys destined some day to man the nation's missile silos, and his emotionally disturbed son to dream of a hairy creature telling them that the planet is doomed. As Jon learns of a particularly evil government project nearby, he pits himself more determinedly against the gruff, monomaniacal military personnel who hired him. He'll lose his struggle, of course--but at least he's allowed a few family pleasures as the military men lead him and, it's implied, the rest of the country, to an early grave. Daugherty's simplistic portrayal of artists as sensitive and wise, and Army men as evil and greedy, does disservice to his aims. A more perceptive and honest look at the world of nuclear arms and their protectors would be welcome.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Norton