Recurring eccentrics, cripples, petty criminals and desperadoes uncomfortably inhabit 22 dense and sometimes wandering stories by uneven Australian novelist Jolley (Palomino, 1987; Mr. Seobie's Riddle, etc.). None has been published ill the U.S. before. In the first group of stories, collectively called ""Five Acre Virgin,"" a whimsical but clannish widowed mother pampers her ne'er-do-well son and overlooks her mentally handicapped daughter on a small farm, wheedled from its rightful owner, in Western Australia; then the mother dies, and the daughter, now a housemaid, is left to support, serve and bail her greedy, corrupt brother out of scrapes. In the second section, ""The Travelling Entertainer,"" a motley group of working-class men and women enact small betrayals and experience small redemptions, sometimes--as in ""Outink to Uncle's Place,"" about a German immigrant who brags to a newer immigrant of ""his"" land, a vineyard that the second immigrant is crushed to learn belongs to a wealthy old Austrailian family and has been bought merely in fantasy by his friend--with a satiric twist of irony that suggests a general, mild bitterness with life. A third short section, an autobiographical essay called ""A Child Went Forth,"" expands the theme of bitterness into the larger theme of exile and the writer's ""retreat into fantasy and imagination,"" to ""overcome and accept feelings of exclusion."" But successful overcomings--of exclusion and of the problems involved in making inarticulate lives deliver messages--are in this collection. The predominant impression is one of unfocused yearnings unfulfilled in claustrophobic worlds.