What Falls Away: A Novel

What Falls Away: A Novel

by Tracy Daugherty
     
 

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The time is near present; the locale an isolated military community in the Nevada desert. Jon Chase, idealistic arts commissioner, has just been hired to bring culture to the town of Tilton. But Tilton is not your average little community. Though the Cold War is over, the Atomic Diner still features Fallout Burgers. Underground explosions still shatter the night.… See more details below

Overview

The time is near present; the locale an isolated military community in the Nevada desert. Jon Chase, idealistic arts commissioner, has just been hired to bring culture to the town of Tilton. But Tilton is not your average little community. Though the Cold War is over, the Atomic Diner still features Fallout Burgers. Underground explosions still shatter the night. Years of testing have poisoned the ground - and some of Jon's neighbors. As he and his wife, Peg, try to protect their young children, Jon faces his own struggles in bringing art to the conservative-minded denizens of an army base. The military leaders, especially the super-patriotic Major Donaldson, are resistant to Jon's plans. The townspeople, about to lose their economic base, have settled into anxiety and inertia. When Peg Chase initiates a women's group to protest the testing, the community is finally energized. But Pegs's growing political activism threatens to touch off its own explosions, both public and private.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.)
Kirkus Reviews
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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393038378
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
02/28/1996
Edition description:
1st ed
Pages:
219
Product dimensions:
5.96(w) x 8.55(h) x 0.86(d)

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