Two stories in Wheeler's impressive first collection take locus from her own experience as a (now disrobed) Buddhist nun in Burma--``Under the Roof'' and ``Ringworm''--and these have an unstrained shapeliness born of intimate knowledge. Here and in other stories, too, Wheeler's spiritual pilgrims aren't airheads, not particularly ``lost'' in the tangible world; nor do they set themselves up for the disappointments they meet. Just the right blend of realism (``Over here''--referring to India--``causality was cooked up in one's blind spot'') and ardor informs their religious dreams. But this is due less to the inherent subject matter of asceticism, gurus, and inner vows than to Wheeler's fine general knack for what the Russian formalists used to call ``making it strange.'' Her stories of an American girl's life growing up in South America--``Improving My Average,'' ``Urbino''--have the same spiky shifts of tone, and are thus allowed to seem more random and convincing than the ordinary culture-transplant story. Wheeler's wise eye and style--at times comparable to Mavis Gallant's in effect--are so sharp they sometimes get away from her (``If only I could have photographed the jellied chunk of time I spent under Miami Aiport, waiting for the rental agency's minibus. Concourses coiled overhead like the labyrinth of an enormous cement ear....The light, fibrillating green fluorescence was interrupted by slashes of void between which too tan women walked past toward imminent reunions...'')--but letting too little sneak by is no literary sin, especially in a debut collection. Strong, messy, frequently indelible work by a new talent.