(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The title story of ISOBARS, with its definitions of an isobar as “an imaginary line connecting places of equal pressure on a map,” introduces the reader to the form and content of all fifteen stories in this collection. A meteorologist must have intuition to draw the “talismanic” lines as well as training in statistics and oceanography. In “The Loss of Faith,” Hospital describes New York City and Australia as “points where the pressure of memory exerts an equivalent force” so that a professor can “see” his first wife on a subway the same day she dies in Australia. The same pressure points of memory force an old woman to recall her rape years earlier in a town that has since been flooded but now resurfaces because of a drought; “The Second Coming of Come-by-Chance” is at once realistic and magical/religious. Likewise, in “Uncle Seaborn” a young man is mysteriously pulled toward a sea meeting and suicide after reading about the “watery” deaths of his ancestors.

The stories, which include Tarot cards, dream fantasies about a mysterious airline passenger, and the “chameleon condition” of a philandering professor without an identity, transcend realism and rely on “Jungian archetypes and dreams” to capture the intersection of past and present, the real and the magical, and the disparate settings of Canada, New York, Boston, and Queensland, Australia, which is the emotional center of Hospital’s “map.” From that center the pressure points of memory tend to concern related acts of violence against women, but some stories concern “sisterhood,” the caring relationship of one woman for another: “Bondi” and “Queen of Pentacles, Nine of Swords” depict middle-class women whose lives are inextricably tied to self-destructive counterparts. Hospital’s male characters range from “chameleons” to old men whose well-intentioned relationships with younger women are subconsciously prompted by their guilt and need for redemption. Hospital’s map may be connected by pressure points, but her characters seldom connect.