This latest addition to Capra's ""Back-to-Back"" series--an off-beat project which prints works by two authors under one cover--fails to create the ""lively and arresting"" combination the publisher promises. The prolific Gold (whose nearly 20 books include Fathers, Waiting for Cordelia, Family, and Mister White Eyes) here collects five of his stories, most of which previously appeared in Playgirl magazine. What links these slickly crafted tales is their numbing evenness of voice and subject. All but one concern middle-aged, divorced (or soon-to-be divorced) California men, whose endless kvetching--they view most women as capricious and manipulative--makes them perfect candidates for Leonard Michaels' The Men's Club--familiar territory in post-feminist male fiction. The longest, most compelling piece, ""Stages,"" chronicles a dwindling marriage (alternately seen as a ""risk,"" a ""business,"" and a ""routine"") through a series of short but sharply etched episodes. The final story, ""Bart and Helene at Annie and Fred's,"" reveals Gold at his worst. Here, a woman is rejected because she lacks, it seems, the qualities which matter the most to Gold's self-pitying heroes: she's neither young nor stunningly beautiful. In the end, the only thing ""misbegotten"" about these workmanlike but ultimately distasteful stories is their re-publication. In this piggyback affair, Asher (Blood Summer and Piano Sport) offers two previously unpublished stories that clearly carry the weight. The first, ""Angel on My Shoulder,"" relies on his flawless ability to re-create ethnic inflections, in this case, Jewish. A series of phone calls between a dutiful son in California and his elderly mother in Rhode Island occasions a number of sweet though never sappy memories of a vanished time and place. When the narrator finally visits his 95-year-old mother, he realizes that, in spite of her physical deterioration, this charming woman most assuredly endures. ""The Barrier,"" a more conventional narrative, records the struggles of a young white musician as he discovers the jazz culture of the '50's to be the means for crossing racial barriers, even though an event outside this milieu--his stabbing--forces him to recognize that racial hostilities persist. All in all, this odd publishing arrangement clearly benefits Gold, whose flat prose must be purchased in order to enjoy Asher's wonderfully lyric stories.