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.