An uneven collection of 15 new or recent stories from the midwestern novelist and storywriter (The Gasoline Wars, 1979; Little Face, 1984). The pieces are grouped arbitrarily, under the rubrics “Who We Love,” “Other Lives,” and “Spirits,” though in fact there’s considerable overlapping. Mostly, they feature ordinary people attempting to dream their way out of limiting or depressing lives (in “Heart of Gold,” a woman takes comfort from the warm masculine presences of movie cowboy heroes and of a helpful “garage man,” while “Poor Helen” escapes marital and maternal disappointments by bar hopping). The bored suburbanite of “Fire Dreams” shakes herself alive by dallying with a married fireman; and the “reformed hippie” of “Mother Nature” attempts, under the watchful gaze of her disapproving teenaged daughter, to reconnect with an old friend from her wild youth. Capably written, all of these, intermittently enlivened by wry dialogue, are ever so slightly predictable. A few stories develop from arresting premises, notably “The Lost Child” (which seems to portray a kidnaping in progress) and “Forever,” about a reporter who interviews the family and boyfriend of a murdered girl only to stumble into a sharpened awareness of his own mortality (—He was only one of the dead who were not yet dead—). Thompson’s unpretentious clarity pays off most rewardingly in stories that expose their characters gradually to the unforeseen consequences of their actions. Standouts are “The Amish,” in which the aroused consciousness of an embittered Vietnam vet slowly estranges him from his family, and “The Widower,” its elderly antagonist virtually haunting the house he sells to a younger couple, who find his solitude and misery seeping into, and poisoning, their lives. Honest, competent work from a good writer who’s at her best when she avoids formulaic situations and takes us inside her characters” painstaking explorations of themselves and whomever they love, or think they love.