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`MY MOTHER, Louise, once asked me what separates one place from another," says Matthew, the narrator of Matthew Stadler's "Allan Stein" (Grove, $22). "Other places, I guessed, which begged the question." Stadler, stopping through New York to promote the book, tells me that each of his novels features a pivotal question. His most recent previous book, "The Sex Offender," opened with its question: "What was the precise nature of your desire?" Stadler says that Louise's query is "the question" of "Allan Stein."
Stadler, who is 40, is as boyish and bright-eyed as any of the youths that inspire intense longings in Matthew, as in "The Sex Offender's" narrator. But he is considerably more attentive, and loquacious. Unlike the taciturn 15-year-old Stephane of the novel, who blasts Pink Floyd behind his room's closed door, Stadler rattles off the names of favorite bands from his native Seattle. Speaking of writers who are role models and friends and who maintain symbiotic creative relationships with visual artists, Stadler said he once "felt like a loser" because he didn't have such a link with other kinds of artists. But he later realized that the bands he sees and writes about in Seattle play that role for him. "Allan Stein" travels in place from a city much like Seattle to France, exploring Louise's question, which reflects Stadler's own almost picaresque life. He started college late, leaving Oberlin after three years to enroll in the London School of Economics, but even more to jump into the English music scene at the dawn of the 1980s (he quit the LSE after about a month).