Seth T.'s Reviews > Talking to Strangers

Talking to Strangers by Fehed Said
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Nov 21, 2009

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In reading Fehed Said's new collection of short stories, Talking to Strangers, I again encountered the problem I recently related in reviewing Kazuo Ishiguro's collection of shorts, Nocturnes , and the same one I met in Kevin Huizenga's fantastic album of shorts, Curses . The problem is simply this: most anthologies are made uneven in tone and quality by their disparate parts.

Fortunately, Talking to Strangers, like the other two mentioned works acquits itself well despite a few missteps.

The book's strengths actually lie in its varied nature. Each story is unique in the kind of story it tells as well as the style with which it is executed. Where one story is chilling, another might be celebratory. Where one functions as fable, another runs toward parable. The author shows range and invention and with one exception the collection is an easy and fun read, by turns thrilling and sweet and tragic.

Said is joined by a number of collaborators who contribute the art for the volume. While I definitely missed Shari Chankhamma (Said's previous collaborator on The Clarence Principle ) and her gorgeous work, the artists in this volume generally succeed with the material. Some, spectacularly well. Faye Yong's work on the fifth story in the anthology is an absolute joy. There are some hiccoughs though and this is perhaps the principal area in which the book could have been better.

My favourite stories were the second and fifth ("Static" and "Flowers," respectively). It may not be coincidental that both remind me of other creative works of which I'm fond, Steven Martin's The Pleasure of My Company and Weezer's delicate song on Pinkerton, "Butterfly." It helps that, again, the art in "Flowers" is a joy to take in; Yong's lines are crisp and confident here, and her sense of visual storytelling is entirely effective. The first story, "Box," is imaginative and from the perspective and direction of the story's own world, both compelling and frightening.

There was really only one story I didn't appreciate well enough. "Hero." The fourth story is conceptually interesting and is the kind of thing one might find in the pages of Neil Gaiman's Sandman (only substituting Said's more verbally sparse style of writing). It's hard to find any weaknesses in Said's work on this story because they are drowned out almost entirely by Sonia Leong's ineffectual art. I'm not certain what happened here because her work in other examples I've seen is competent enough, but in "Hero" the art is muddy and unfortunately rather boring. At times there is difficulty discerning what is being seen (e.g., it wasn't until pages later that I came to recognize a certain object as a belt). Without seeing the script, it's hard to know where to pin blame for the ultimately mediocre realization of this particular story. Regardless, "Hero" is the book's one real weakness.

Other issues, such as the kind-of-creepy bushy eyelashes on the protagonist of the first story and a simple error of one too many locks drawn on the outside of a door in the second story do little damage the overall quality of the collection and the better stories (which are fantastic) serve to elevate the work as a whole.

[review copy provided by publisher:]
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