Books by Eugene Stein

TOUCH AND GO by Eugene Stein
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: July 1, 1997

The author of the novel Straitjacket and Tie (1994) displays a greater narrative range, and more stylistic daring, in this first collection of 13 stories. The weaker pieces here rely on the same gay themes as Straitjacket: In ``Mixed Signals,'' a teenager in Forest hills experiences his first homosexual longing for his older brother's college roommate, whose gay self-confidence reassures the younger boy. In ``Death in Belize,'' a naive American executive in his 20s is seduced by a handsome Peruvian who turns out to be a hustler and a carrier of a lethal infection. Some shortcuts offer quick comedic takes on ambitious studio execs (``Buster Keaton Gets Faxed''); a fan's obsession with Patti Smith (``Dream of Life''); a diner where nothing negative is allowed (``Mom's Dinner''); and The Book as sexual subject (``Kiss This Book''). The longer stories vary from the strained seriousness of ``Hard Bargains''—in which a young Chicago journalist discovers her racist tendencies—to ``The Grandma Golem,'' a fable that retells the Jewish myth with a slight twist. A fine story, ``Close Calls,'' is partly drawn from Stein's day job as a v.p. of comedy development for CBS; it records the pressures of the entertainment business and one young exec's substance-abuse problem. On a wholly other note, ``The Art of Falling'' and ``Broken Mathematics'' offer delightful tales of modern love—one between a charming tax-dodger and his sexually- repressed investigator, the other between a grad student in math and two contrasting lovers. The best piece here, though, is the inventive, intelligently playful ``The Triumph of the Prague Worker's Council,'' a mystery involving an obscure Russian Situationist artist. The story cleverly embodies the very radical anarchist notions it explores. Various and worthwhile, from Lynch-like bits of surrealism to steady-handed realism, Stein's literary fictions will surprise those literary types who may hold his high-powered job against him. Read full book review >
STRAITJACKET AND TIE by Eugene Stein
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Feb. 1, 1994

The problems of a gay man coming out are exacerbated by his brother's schizophrenia—in a half on-key first novel from TV comedy-writer Stein. The Rosenbaums of the Bronx are a close, loving family, and the two sons are kindred spirits, so when college student Philip has a breakdown it's especially painful for Bert, still in high school. This is Bert's story, but Philip's illness is a constant backdrop (now he's better, now he's worse, now he's in the hospital, now he's out), and for the next eight years Bert will suppress fears of going crazy himself. Those fears seem realized when Bert meets three space aliens in the park, but it turns out that the aliens are a form of comic relief, though the joke (we may be small and green but we're still just like you all) wears thin very quickly and undercuts the madness theme. So Bert, sanity unimpaired, goes from being a ``Bronx nerd punk rocker'' to a Princeton graduate to a bureaucrat with New York's Department of Sewers to a Columbia MBA student. He also goes from unfulfilling sex with women to frustrating relationships with men—frustrating because he gravitates to men more sexually confused than himself. Does this have to do with the newly emergent virus (the time is the early Eighties)? Or is Bert, as a friend asks, trying to make himself as unhappy as his brother? The story ends with the question unanswered, Bert dating somebody new, and Philip as sick as ever. An insubstantial debut bulked out with the small change of co- worker relationships and the antics of Bert's neighbor, a standard- issue New York crazy. Stein does write well and movingly about family matters; his strength is in quiet realism rather than comic routines. Read full book review >