In Precocious & Other Stories, a collection of 25 short stories, author Richard Stein ponders subjects ranging from coming-of-age experiences to FBI special agent missions to the dawn of singularity. The stories are meant to be read independently, although characters, settings, or storylines at times overlap.
The opening story, “Precocious,” relates the experiences of Abby Jo Golden, a 13-year-old girl who hatches a savvy business plan to sell T-shirts from a cancelled music tour. In the process, she develops a crush on Jonah Aaron, a smooth-talking 17-year-old business associate who fills her thoughts—until fate intervenes.
In “Chekov,” the main character asks a question in a graduate-level writing seminar, conscious of trying to attract the attention of two women, a blonde and a brunette, seated nearby. The story entertains some interesting discussions of the writing process before the protagonist diverts his attention from one woman to the other at story’s end.
“The Great Escape” concerns a tour group on safari in Africa. Readers are faced with the unimaginable consequences that result when the group is inadvertently exposed to a deadly virus that targets only children.
The stories feature interesting premises and setups, the author laying out each situation and its attendant issues as if setting a table with care. Unfortunately, while the tales generally end with an interesting twist, the conclusions rarely provoke further thought.
In “Chekov,” for example, the protagonist sees that the brunette woman he’s chatting up is wearing a wedding ring, so he simply goes off to talk with the blonde instead. Similarly, Abby Jo in “Precocious” doesn’t come upon any major self-revelations; she just moves on with her life at story’s end, forgetting completely about her crush on Jonah. Readers rarely sense personal growth or even an underlying point to each tale.
The author clearly has talent, and readers will appreciate the intriguing premises and scenes Stein sets up. But deeper character development and less facile conclusions would greatly enrich this collection.