Dispatches | May 04, 2013

During the month of May, The Missouri Review will highlight a single short story to help celebrate National Short Story Month. We’ve asked a diverse group of readers and writers to participate by sharing a short story that demands to be read. Today’s blog post comes from Jessica Vozel. 

The title story in Kevin Canty’s 1994 collection A Stranger in This World gives us Candy, a woman who is on her way to Florida to meet her boyfriend’s family (“When do they stop being boyfriends?” 34-year-old Candy wonders).  The couple arrives in Florida, and Candy is dizzied by the physical similarities between her boyfriend’s brother and her dead husband. And then, as the story progresses, we learn that Candy has actually been dead for a long time herself, since she was twenty-years old.

Don’t worry, I’m not spoiling a Shyamalan-like twist; Candy’s not a ghost in the corporeal sense. But some critical part of her died when her husband did, and since then she’s observed the world from a purgatory perspective—from the view of someone already half-gone.

And that’s the magic of this story, which I have very nearly memorized: its world is very much our own, with its swampy Floridian landscapes, pink-bricked homes, and characters with typical human troubles (booze, that first stilted meeting between partners and parents, forfeited ambitions, being too nice) but through the eyes of Candy, the stranger, it’s not our world anymore. It’s a dreamlike world of alligator eyes “glinting like jewelers in the night,” of cypress trees rising from black water, a world where a shady stranger becomes someone you once loved.

And it’s a world, Candy thinks, without consequences—but that’s the spoiler I’ll save.

Jessica Vozel graduated from the MFA program at Bowling Green State University. Her fiction has been published in West Branch and Word Riot, and essays and reviews have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review and online at Hobart.