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IN BRIEF

Fiction

February 11, 1996|ERIKA TAYLOR

WHAT FALLS AWAY by Tracy Daugherty (Norton: $22.50, 219 pp.). It is a sad, somewhat baffling experience to come across a novel that has a truly wonderful first half, but then, as the story progresses, the very things that make it special seem to leak out page by page, until the book is nothing but a pedestrian, albeit friendly and heartfelt, shadow of its former self.

Taking place in the very near future, "What Falls Away" begins when the narrator, Jon Chase, is hired as arts commissioner for the tiny military town of Tilton, Nev. After moving there with his long-suffering wife and two kids, Chase discovers that dangerous, illegal nuclear testing is going on all around him. When questioned, the military lapses into a sort of nonspeak that makes Chase extremely nervous. Parts of "What Falls Away" are subtle and quite funny. Here is a resident of Tilton trying to be welcoming: "Beth emerged from the kitchen with some fried, puffy things heaving and spitting on a tray. 'An experiment,' she said. 'Hope you like 'em.' "

The problems with this novel begin fairly soon after the stakes abruptly become higher. Until then, it is reminiscent of Don Delillo's "White Noise." After that it is reminiscent of a made-for-television movie.

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