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FICTION

ISOBARS by Janette Turner Hospital (Louisiana State University Press: $18.95; 177 pp.) .

An isobar is a line on a map that connects points of equal barometric pressure. In these 15 stories, Janette Turner Hospital is a weatherwoman of the psyche: She maps emotional lines between her native Australia and North America, and traces storm fronts from present unease back over the horizon to half-forgotten injury.

The sources of the injury vary. A woman from India living in Canada channels her energy and brilliance into fulfilling the dire prophecy that Tarot cards announced at her birth. A teen-age prostitute is enslaved by her pimp and dealer. An old woman’s memories emerge with the ruins of an Outback town rising from a drought-shrunken reservoir. She tries to confess to a big-city reporter that years ago she was raped by police and intimidated into letting Aborigines be punished for the crime. But now as then, men’s smug, patronizing voices drown out the words she wants to utter.

Some of Hospital’s male characters also are wounded. The son in a family of Holocaust refugees refuses to meet guests, who must listen to him play his violin upstairs. An old drunk who abandoned a comrade under fire in World War II is comforted by a girl he meets on the beach--a girl who is training to become a nun but who, in his tortured mind, may literally be an angel.

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Hospital (“The Tiger in the Tiger Pit,” “Charades”) has several strengths as a writer: a lyrical style, a wide range, a gift for compression, and the ability to get down and dirty when lyricism doesn’t cut it. She is especially good at rendering dazed or hallucinatory states of mind. Her weakness--the angel business hints at it--is a compulsion to go for major emotions, profound revelations, every time out. This doesn’t always work, though the best of her stories are like brief cyclones: gusts wrapped around an unexpected center of calm.


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