Speak to Strangers
  by Gemma Seltzer

Penned In The Margins
2011
Paperback
First Collection

Book Website: SpeaktoStrangers.
co.uk







"We grip our own bodies self-consciously. I could dive into your world and breaststroke my way somewhere else."


Reviewed by Emma Young

Speak to Strangers is Gemma Seltzer’s first collection of short stories which collates the experiences of an individual on their journey across the city. This collection blends perfectly the multitude of voices that one person can witness on an ordinary day on their journey through London. In writing one hundred short stories all limited to one hundred words Seltzer challenges the boundaries and capabilities of a writer’s language and craft. A culmination of blog, poetry and narrative all intertwine to provide a blissful and provocative reading experience.

The collection as a whole demonstrates a depth and variety so diverse that it is difficult to believe that this is one person’s journey in just one city. In lifting snapshots from her daily life, recollections of conversations heard, Seltzer creates stories that offer us an almost incomprehensible selection of characters. Her writing is precise whilst evoking images that capture the imagination, and structuring each story as a day works beautifully. Characters take on a variety of forms and reflect the cosmopolitan nature of the city.

It is difficult to highlight just one or two stories that stood out whilst reading this collection however here is a selection of my favourite moments:
Day 9: There is nothing notable about you until I see how immense your eyes are behind your glasses. I tell you a funny story to see if it really is funny. And sure enough, you laugh.
An encounter with a stranger provides a moment of exhilaration in which voices and lives come together for a brief moment and exchange laughter and joy. It serves as a reminder that human contact can be one of the most positive things that life has to offer. One of the most emotive and endearing moments of the collection.
This is the first time I’ve not wanted to speak to a stranger. I’m tired of trying. I see the puffed ruffled sleeves on your shirt and how the elastic trim is digging into your forearms. You pull a pint, you announce it with a raised eyebrow. I have nothing more to report. You take my money, you return my change. I’ve done this too many times now.
This extract from Day 19 of the collection offers a shift in tone from the preceding encounters. It recognizes the conflict in living in a large city and how individuals can become isolated, blank faces, and interaction can become frustrating and disheartening. The repetition of experience and life are at the fore of this moment. The tone is complimented by the poetic language of the section with the "puffed ruffled sleeves" assonating and creating an image so clear you feel as if you are at the bar too.

The final moment I will share (although I could write of many more) is one in which the environment and narrative blend in a way that offers a universality of place transporting you out of the city.
Day 67: Who knows if the day will get any brighter, feel any more like spring is near, a breeze lifting clothing, a sky filled with only blue. But I do know we kept our appointment, that there is eagerness in your voice and willingness to hear what I say, to listen to any advice. This fills me with a cloud of achievement, a white puff of pleasure.
The weather becomes a metaphor for emotion as another positive encounter with a stranger is described. However, what really moved me with this story is that way that the passage ends with the rapid change in tone and "the wasted energy of words that never found their expression". The futility of situations and the speed in which environments and feelings can change is captured perfectly in this one day.

This collection is heart-warming and innovative. The concept in itself was enough to impress as in engaging technology (blogging) with literature and experience Seltzer brings the short story in to the twenty-first century. It is reassuring to see that art of this nature is being taken seriously and published in Britain today. 



Read a story from this collection on GemmaSeltzer.co.uk


Emma Young is a PhD student at the University of Leicester working on her thesis: Contemporary Women’s Writing and the Short Story Genre. Her work explores the implications of gender and genre by discussing the work of numerous contemporary British women authors including Ali Smith and Sara Maitland and considers the implications of new digital technology on the status and future of the short story.
Emma's other Short Reviews: Lorrie Moore "Like Life"

                     
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Gemma Seltzer is a London-based writer and literary blogger. She is the author of daily fiction blog Speak to Strangers, which has now been published in book format. She also developed the online project Look up at the Sky to explore writing and walking.

Read an interview with Gemma Seltzer