LITHUANIA by Joe Ashby Porter (The John Hopkins University Press: $26; 144 pp.) . Joe Ashby Porter has an unquestionable ability to turn a phrase and to create a setting, both of which he does in fine style in this collection of 11 short stories. His earlier collection, "The Kentucky Stories," was a Pulitzer Prize nominee. The stories in "Lithuania" (the meaning of the title seems to be lifted from one of the "Jeopardy" game show's categories) range, geographically, all over the landscape--from Tunis to Nashville, from Baltimore to Quebec--and the smells, sounds and backgrounds are right on target. However, Porter dangles, dances around and skips over both plot and character development in a most maddening way. In the story "Retrieval," the protagonist and a friend go fishing in a lake on the Tennessee-Kentucky border. The friend rambles on, touching on the computer business, country music singers and geography, and concludes: "Country changes, but no invasion'll ever vanquish it. Country assimilates, know what I mean, Rob?" At which point Rob confesses to the reader: "I wasn't sure I did so I asked what kind of fish we were likely to get." The reader, I fear, is in the same boat with the baffled Rob all too often.