Startlingly intelligent, 'Allan Stein' is a literary novel rich in descriptive detail, imagery and flowing prose which merges the past and the present in a simultaneously witty and poignant search for identity.
Our narrator is a school teacher 'on leave' following a (false) accusation concerning a teenage pupil, made by the latter's parents. Ironically, the accusation gives rise to a genuine relationship with the boy. As this subsequent relationship wanes, the narrator becomes caught up in the fantasy of the long-deceased subject of a Picasso portrait. He sets off to Paris, under the guise of being a museum curator, searching for some Picasso sketches of the boy in question. Initially comfortable with this liberating change of identity, the narrator becomes infatuated with the teenage son of the family with whom he is lodging in Paris. The novel then charts the course of his relationship with the boy, the boy's family, and the myriad of other enigmatic characters that he encounters .
Indeed, Matthew Stadler's gift for characterisation is partly what draws the reader so deeply into the narrator's world. The intimate portrayal of the 15 year old boy, Stéphane, is particularly honest and vivid. There are no delusions here - the boy may be stunningly beautiful (the moment of meeting him "made a tear in the fabric" of the narrator's day) but equally (referring to Stéphane's 'digestive problems') it proves "alarming that such an exquisite surface could contain all that flatulence"). The author's descriptions of the boy's mother, Miriam, and the narrator's own mother, are equally realistic and clear - which serves as a stark contrast with the narrator's own, more fluid, personality and sense of self. It is a testament to the author's skill that this self-insight grows in such an organic way that, by the end of the novel, the realisations that our narrator achieves are natural and just. It is thus not so much a journey of self-discovery, as a gradual transfer of self-knowledge from the subconscious to the conscious.
If you are seeking a light-hearted plane-journey read, you might be advised to look elsewhere. Matthew Stadler's novel deserves active, thoughtful participation. You will be well-rewarded, however, as his expertly-drawn characters, enchanting dialogue and erotic, humorous prose, combine to make 'Allan Stein' an exceptionally insightful work that will undoubtedly withstand the test of time.
Matthew, our narrator, has been accused of seducing one of his students, a fifteen year old boy, at the Seattle school where he teaches. Innocent of the crime, and believed by his superiors, he is nonetheless given a full years severance pay. Thinking he now has nothing to loose he promptly proceeds to seduce the boy, much to the boy's delight.
Now at a loose end he concocts a plan with his friend Herbert, curator of a local art museum, to go to Paris in search of some early Picasso sketches supposedly of Allan Stein, nephew of Gertrude Stein. Posing as Herbert, Matthew departs for Europe where he stays with a local family and their fifteen year old son Stéphane, who soon captivates Matthew with his beauty, with the inevitable consequences.
Well written and frequently very funny, Allan Stein is an imaginative interweaving of fact and fiction. Descriptive passages abound, from the beauty of the scenery in Europe to the beauty of Stéphane's youthful body. Unfortunately Matthew does not come over as endearing as one might like, but rather as a little arrogant and shallow; it is yet a most pleasurable, entertaining and titillating, even enlightening, read.
Compared to Matthew Stadler's epic experimental novel The Dissolution of Nicholas Dee, Allan Stein is extremely disappointing. I won't go into the plot details as they are contained above in the book summary. However what I will say is that the book has no real character development.All one takes away from the book is that the protagonist is a somewhat creepy character and his relationship with the boy at the centre of the book's plot is not very well developed. There is no friendship there rather it seems to be the desperate effort of the protagonist to inveigle his way into the boy's affections. The books ending is also highly unlikely and tests the reader's credibility to the limit.
I can recommend Nicholas Dee wholeheartedly but I would steer clear of this one.
This is a book exploring the love of youth, it is a very sensuous and physical investigation into a realm where many people gay or straight may be very concerned - possible child abuse - but Matthew Stadler has created a sensitive, powerful, honest ? and erotic read with a real and acceptable story - if it is a work of fiction ! But you have to read it to judge for yourself !
An engaging book that amuses. The obsession of the main character for a youth is troubling, but an intelligent response. Some of the characters are not as fully drawn as they might be, but this remains a good read - something different when you've got time on your hands.