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Touch and Go


A wholly original writer breathes new life into a literary tradition in this fearless, masterfully inventive collection of thirteen stories.

Stick your finger in Shorty's rice pudding — still warm from the pot — at Mom's Diner. (Shorty's the cook.) There's always a word of friendly advice and a positive outlook here, and even the criminals appreciate the good service.

If you fall in love when you're traveling, pay attention to whom you trust — ...

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A wholly original writer breathes new life into a literary tradition in this fearless, masterfully inventive collection of thirteen stories.

Stick your finger in Shorty's rice pudding — still warm from the pot — at Mom's Diner. (Shorty's the cook.) There's always a word of friendly advice and a positive outlook here, and even the criminals appreciate the good service.

If you fall in love when you're traveling, pay attention to whom you trust — and where you go. You have to be careful of Death in Belize, but the beaches there are very, very pretty, and the people, good-looking and kind.

Workers, unite! See the beauty of utopia in The Triumph of the Prague Workers' Councils — Tatiana Malevich's masterwork in collage. The artwork's whereabouts remain shrouded in mystery, but Elaine and Jessica, revolutionaries and amateur detectives, are sure to uncover it if they don't kill each other first.

A Darvon, two Xanax, two Valiums, and some Chardonnay. Shula's got to look up that combo in the drug hotline handbook to know how it'll mess you up. Speaking of which, after all those Close Calls, why aren't you dead yet?

In Touch and Go, Eugene Stein evokes strange — yet strangely familiar — worlds, feelings you didn't know were there, flavors aplenty. Into the dark corners of your heart and mind he shines a unique light on love, life, and desire — illuminating and brilliant.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Eugene Stein is one of the freshest voices in the literary world today. His new collection of short stories takes readers on a journey of the senses. The 13 stories capture the imagination and bring us to familiar worlds — sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always original.

From the bizarre utopia of "Mom's Diner" (one of the few places where criminals can get a cup of coffee with a smile) to the "Close Calls" of a television executive's drug-ridden pitch session, Stein takes the reader on quite a ride. In "Death in Belize," we are taken to a mysterious world where death and love are juxtaposed, bringing mistrust and potential disaster.

"Mixed Signals," a coming-of-age tale set in New York, displays the true hardships of family life. The "Art of Falling" shows us a side of the IRS that we don't normally see or think about. And "Hard Bargains" tackles the issues of race as we are introduced to Laura Lerner, a young reporter whose boss continually sends her to get the reaction of black families who have lost their children. Stein touches readers in ways not usually seen, as he explores the dark realms of the heart and mind and shines a unique light on life, love, and desire.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This uneven, sometimes inventive collection of 13 stories by a novelist (Straitjacket & Tie) and CBS television executive employs spare prose that works best in the more sardonic tales. Among the most accomplished entries are "Death in Belize," which concerns a gay tourist's entanglement with an alluring hustler, and "Hard Bargains," in which a woman reporter confronts her own racism as she covers a ghetto shooting in Chicago. Less successful than these polished narratives of sophisticated urbanites under duress are genre-bending stories such as the grisly but affectless "The Grandmother Golem." "The Triumph of the Prague Workers' Council" is an unsuccessful satire of Marxist academics that toys with conventional (a drawing-room denouement) and unconventional narration (the magic realist elements at the story's end). What is most memorable in the collection is a brief sketch first published in Harper's, "Buster Keaton Gets Faxed." This deadpan account of cynical ad executives' thwarted attempts to fully manipulate the image of the inimitable Keaton is acutely satirical and showcases Stein's sharp sense of irony. Author tour. (July) FYI: Stein will be the judge of the publisher's annual short-story contest for unpublished authors under 35. The 20 winning entries will be collected in a volume to be published in the spring of 1998.
Library Journal
In this slim collection of short stories by the author of the novel Straightjacket and Tie (LJ 2/15/94), Stein uses a range of settings and styles, writing in a spare, confident prose that conveys a lot of information in a few words. Some stories have a seemingly autobiographical feel, dealing with a young narrator coming to terms with his homosexuality. Others seem eerie or supernatural, as if the world were not quite what we expected. In one of the longer and more successful stories, "Triumph of the Prague Worker's Councils," two women become entangled in art dealing and radical political history, but the story shifts subtly to a futuristic ending. "One City" is a happy, bicoastal dream in which the best parts of New York and Los Angeles are glommed together, and TV executive Stein also lets us into the high-pressure world of the entertainment industry. But while it contains a few gems like these, this collection is uneven overall. For comprehensive literary collections.Reba Leiding, Rensselaer Polytechnic Inst., Troy, N.Y.
Kirkus Reviews
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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688161965
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/28/1998
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 4.88 (w) x 7.78 (h) x 0.52 (d)

Meet the Author

Eugene Stein was born in New York City and attended Yale College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is the author of a novel, Straitjacket & Tie, and now lives in Los Angeles.

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Read an Excerpt

At Mom's Diner, you tip because you want to, not because you have to. At Mom's Diner, smokers are infallibly courteous to nonsmokers. At Mom's Diner, Shorty the Cook always makes a really good rice pudding.

Mom's Diner is right off Allen Ginsburg Boulevard, where Pablo Neruda Street crosses Charles Fourier Avenue. Betty, the waitress, works hard, but manages to put money aside each week for her son's college fund. Betty swears she's going to lose ten pounds and curses her hair for turning gray faster than she can rinse it, but she's quick with a joke for the customers and always has a positive outlook on life. She's done wonders raising Buddy Junior by herself, ever since the tornado took Buddy Senior.

Copyright 1997 by Eugene Stein.

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Table of Contents

Mom's Diner 1
Close Calls 6
Death in Belize 21
Buster Keaton Gets Faxed 44
Mixed Signals 49
The Triumph of the Prague Workers' Councils 67
Dream of Life 92
The Art of Falling 97
Broken Mathematics 113
One City 122
The Grandma Golem 125
Hard Bargains 149
Kiss This Book 172
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Interviews & Essays

Before the live chat, Eugene Stein agreed to answer some of our questions.

Q:  Being vice president of comedy development at CBS, what do you think of the current state of the American sitcom? Which shows do you think work, and why do they work?

A:  I think, all in all, this is a good era for the sitcom. Because there are six networks and many cable outlets, there are more sitcoms than ever before, and consequently more bad sitcoms than ever before. But let's look at the best programs: "Frasier," "Seinfeld," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "The Larry Sanders Show," and "Friends." I think all of these shows would rank highly in any period of TV history. There are also three promising new series this fall -- "George & Leo" (with Bob Newhart and Judd Hirsch), "The Gregory Hines Show," and "Veronica's Closet" (with Kirstie Alley). Why do some shows work? There's no secret here. Excellent writing. Excellent casting. Excellent direction. But it's so hard to pull off! There are something like 80 sitcoms airing this fall. The talent pool of writers, actors, and directors has been spread much too thin.

Q:  What is your opinion of the rating system currently being used by the networks for different TV shows (TV14, TVPG, and so on)?

A:  I actually haven't studied the parental advisory system in any detail and don't want to comment much. I can't speak for CBS, only for myself personally. I'm pretty much a free speech absolutist and don't particularly care for these kinds of labels. But whether I like it or not, they're here to stay.

Q:  Which short story authors do you currently read? What about as a kid?

A:  I greatly admire Alice Munro's short stories and Jane Smiley's novellas. The short story writer who has probably taught me the most is Willa Cather -- I love her simplicity and her irony. Mostly I read longer fiction. Philip Roth's books continue to give me tremendous enjoyment. Other favorites: David Plante, James Baldwin, Chaim Grade, Russell Hoban, Kazuo Ishiguro, E. L. Doctorow, Doris Lessing, Thomas Pynchon, Mario Vargas Llosa. (I am still limiting myself more or less to contemporary writers.) And if I could take the opportunity to plug a few poets (poets need all the publicity they can get): Philip Levine, A. R. Ammons, Charles Wright. As a child, my favorite writers by far were E. B. White and Edgar Eager.

Q:  I've noticed that you were born in New York and currently reside in Los Angeles. How did you find the transition to the West Coast lifestyle?

A:  The transition from New York to Los Angeles hasn't always been easy. I miss walking! I've lived in Los Angeles for ten years now, and so I've built a life for myself. My relationship is here, my friends are here, my work is here -- my life is here. And no, I don't mind the earthquakes so much. Oddly, the thing that most people hate about Los Angeles -- the lack of seasons -- is what I like best. If I never experienced a New York February or a New York August again, it would be too soon. The weather here is splendid. But it's difficult to spend so much of your life in a car.

Q:  Have you read any books or seen any movies recently that you would strongly recommend?

A:  I recommend Philip Roth's Sabbath's Theater, but it isn't pleasant, and it isn't for the faint of heart. It is, however, hilarious and deeply disturbing. In the past year and a half, "Fargo," "Big Night," "Flirting with Disaster," and "The People vs. Larry Flynt." But the best films I've seen recently have been rereleases: a Fassbinder retrospective that played in New York, Los Angeles, and at the Sundance Festival and Godard's "Contempt."

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