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.