November 23, 1997

By Mark Lindquist

TOUCH AND GO
By Eugene Stein

Eugene Stein has followed his first novel, ”Straitjacket & Tie,” with this uneven but sometimes inspired collection of short stories, absurdist sketches and incomplete, high-concept improvisations. One of the best stories, ”Close Calls,” is narrated by an executive in comedy development at a television network who has a highly developed talent for mixing drugs. In other stories, as in much contemporary fiction, AIDS is a recurring — though often unstated — presence. (The lead character in ”Death in Belize,” for example, is seized by the sexually transmitted ”Lima Plague.”) Several other stories explore sexual identity: in ”Mixed Signals,” when a high school student is gently told by a friend of his older brother’s that it’s all right to admit that he’s gay, the teen-ager replies: ”How do you know about me? I don’t even know about me.”

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Mark Lindquist