Title/Author: Last One Out Shut Off the Lights by Stephanie Soileau
Publisher: Little Brown & Company
In a nutshell:
Last One Out Shut Off the Lights is an evocative portrait of the last-chance towns of southwest Louisiana, where oil development, industrial pollution, dying wetlands, and the ever-present threat of devastating hurricanes have eroded their inhabitants’ sense of home. These eleven piercing stories feature indelible characters struggling to find a foothold in a world that is forever washing out from under them, people who must reckon with their ambivalence about belonging to a place so continually in flux.
In a collection whose resonant echoes abound, we meet a reluctant teenage mother who stows her baby in a closet to steal a night out; a spiteful retiree who sabotages his neighbor in the wake of a hurricane; a Pentecostal singer in a children’s theater company who confronts the cultish leader of her troupe; a community of elderly Cajuns who conspire with a family of Sudanese immigrants to hide an escaped cow from the authorities; and a desperate young woman who tries to drag her brother to Mexico for surgery, determined to save his life and her own.
As Lauren Groff did for the state of Florida in her recent collection Florida, Stephanie Soileau demonstrates that Louisiana is as much a state of mind as it is a place on the map. A love letter to the Cajun language, life rhythms, and customs that still make the region unique, Last One Out Shut Off the Lights is also a powerful reminder of the treacherous escape routes that bedevil anyone longing to leave home, and the traps that remain for those who desire to return.
My verdict: Heartbreaking, at times, funny, honest stories of people living in a town marred by natural disasters, pollution and poverty.
“Have you heard of the South?” You wisecrack about racists and mullets and singlewides and meth-addict cousins in prison and when he only blinks at you, you think, okay, maybe I ought to be done making these jokes.Camera Obscura, pg 203
A collection of stories which takes us to the town of Louisiana, US, a place stricken by pollution, poverty and natural disasters, and into the lives of ordinary people whose stories of hope and despair, love and loss, survival and desperation will leave you aching for them.
Who are the people living in Louisiana known for its pollution and poverty? How do they live? What happens to their lives after a catastrophe? Why are they still there? How do they move on? Do they move on at all? What about those who have left? Do they assimilate to their new place? Are they held back by what they left behind? Or are they stuck like Deana (The Ranger Queen of Sulphur) who ‘was accomplishing exactly nothing, going exactly nowhere; that she would never type or drive or toke her way out of this place that pinned her like a boulder on her toe, that could only be named after the stink it produced.’
I rarely ever read an entire short story collection, but I ended up finishing this and liking it more than I thought I would! I absolutely loved reading 8 of its 11 stories! These were my favorites:
‘So This Is Permanence’ : a pregnant teenage mother struggling to come to terms with being a mother,
‘An Attachment Theory’ : a single mother moved out from her parents’ overcrowded home to settle in a trailer home with her daughter,
‘The Ranger Queen of Sulphur’ : a young woman desperately wanted to get out of Sulphur, finally found the push when her obese brother needed a surgery,
‘Poke Salad’: a lonely plant retiree, whose son rarely ever visited him,
‘The Whiskey Business’ : a high school girl raped by a boy whose wealthy family kept him from being expelled from school, not from rape, which nobody knew of except the victim and her friends, but from drug use,
‘Haguillory’ : a man still pained by the destruction of Hurricane Rita made on his home, let out his frustration on his crabbing trip with his wife,
‘Camera Obscura’ : a teacher with a terminally ill husband, who was attracted to another man,
and my favorite, ‘The Boucherie’ : a cow, which escaped a livestock trailer due to an accident, was slaughtered by some elderly Cajuns out of desperation.
‘Mr. A’ was about a teacher who took advantage of his student sickened me too much to ‘enjoy’ it. There were two, I found, broke the flow of the story, but didn’t deter me from enjoying the collection in its entirety.
Written with lots of heart and empathy, this collection about people trying to find a sense of belonging, who are struggling to love a place they try to call home, is both funny yet heartbreaking, desperate yet hopeful, and is sure to find its way into your heart.
And here’s the part I’m most excited about…..
You get to WIN A COPY OF THIS BOOK! Just post a comment below! (Winner will be randomly chosen. Ends Aug 22, 2020. *US only.)
Thank you, Jessica Chun and Little Brown & Co for giving me the chance to read and review this fantastic book and your generosity in hosting this fantastic giveaway!
I received a gifted copy. All opinions are my own.
Have you read this book? If you have, what did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to? Please share with me your thoughts!