Jeanette Winterson, . . Harcourt, $23 (232pp) ISBN 978-0-15-101117-9

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LIGHTHOUSEKEEPING Jeanette Winterson . Harcourt , $23 (240p) ISBN 0-15-101117-6

It's hard to believe that Winterson's latest novel is even more lightweight than her previous one, The PowerBook , but here an orphan's romantic memories of growing up in a Scottish lighthouse are stretched to the limit with coy aphorisms. When her mother is blown away—literally possible on the savage Atlantic coast of Salts, Scotland—young Silver is sent to live with the lighthouse keeper at Cape Wrath, kind blind old Pew, who spins yarns, especially one about an early minister of Salts, Babel Dark, a Jekyll-and-Hyde type who's acquainted with contemporaries Darwin and Robert Louis Stevenson, and who cruelly betrays the woman he loves twice. When Silver grows up, Pew is discharged from his lighthouse duties in the name of progress, and trusty Silver sets off to look for him, ending up in Capri obsessed with a talking bird. Winterson attempts several stories within stories, switching narrators frequently, and relies heavily on the metaphor of storytelling as elucidation. While Dark's hubris is duly gothic, and the fondness between Silver and Pew touching, the narrative overall feels weightless, without cohesion or fixed purpose. Some of Winterson's off-kilter reflections on love and storytelling are striking, but too many have become convenient truisms: "A beginning, a middle and an end is the proper way to tell a story. But I have difficulty with that method." Agent, Suzanne Gluck at William Morris. 6-city author tour. (Apr.)