The last short story collection I read in 2020 was The Last One Out Shut Off the Light by Stephanie Soileau, which was published this year. After reading the first two stories in the collection, I thought it was going to be a stereotyped look at Louisiana and its inhabitants. I remember years ago in Sunday school, Sam Brouillette, our director would tell “Boudreaux jokes,” stating that it was not politically incorrect because he was a Cajun himself. We looked forward to these, similar to dumb blonde or Aggie jokes, each week. However, I was not willing to read eleven stories that would put my Louisiana-born-or-bred friends down. What the book actually turned out to be was “a portrait of the last-chance towns of southwest Louisiana…” which is a “…place continually in flux.” It is a story of this region of the South and its people.
Many of the character studies, which are marvelously done, are dark, and many are humorous. The author leads us to understand that this region is “as much a state of mind as it is a place on the map.” I loved the hints at the Cajun language and the fact that we could “hear” the sounds with our “mind’s ear,” but in all cases understand what was being said.
One of my favorite stories was “Poke Salad.” A message, probably a phone call, from a dad to his daughter, goes something like this, “I walked through the flames, baby doll, and I survived.” It describes in humorous fashion a man’s near-death experience after eating poisonous greens.
“Mr. A,” another story is of a darker nature. It describes a pedophile, who leads a choir and acting troupe of 5-18 year-olds on tour throughout the region. “Mr. A, their gallant captain, their pied piper, small and dapper, straight-backed and trim extending an arm left or right to steer his trusty procession…” is an example of the wonderful writing throughout the stories. I enjoyed Soileau’s writing style as I read through the character-driven stories. My only complaint about this collection was that it ended too soon!
It’s about time to read another group of short stories. Any suggestions?