In her appeal for her hometown, ravaged by Hurricane Laura in late August, Soileau admitted Lake Charles' failings: the poverty, the ignorance, the racial conflicts, the petrochemical industry's environmental abuses, the poor health, the prevalence of strip malls and fast-food franchises.
But Soileau expressed love for the people of the beset community in southwest Louisiana, their Cajun culture, their family devotion, their hard work and faith.
The writer in her brilliant debut short-story collection, "Last One Out Shut Off the Lights" looks at Lake Charles and its people before Laura's arrival. She shows Lake Charles and its neighboring Calcasieu Parish town of Sulphur already ravaged by the oil industry's decline and the damage of previous hurricanes.
Soileau's stories delve into the lives of those unable to leave the state because of poor education and self-defeating choices.
Several of her characters are teenage mothers overwhelmed by their responsibilities and intrusive families. One comically rejects her duties; another admirably tries to do her best while thwarted by a smothering family and her child's hostility.
The people portrayed in the book seek to hold onto rural traditions of food, family rituals and religion while pummeled by popular culture and economic shifts.
Soileau recognizes the petrochemical industry's benefits; some of her poorly educated male characters attain well-paid middle-class jobs. But they often suffer chronic health conditions.
With memorable characters, mastery of language ranging from the Cajun dialect to high literary style, and comic pathos, Soileau's stories recall those of Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor. Like them, Soileau registers the dislocations of unsophisticated people caught between tradition and changing values.
Like other writers have in the past, Soileau looks at her native land from a distant place. Like O'Connor a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Soileau now lives in Chicago, where she teaches creative writing at the University of Chicago.
Soileau doesn't know if she'll continue writing about southern Louisiana, she told Stern in the Bitter Southerner interview. She says she's working on a historical novel about the Cajuns' exile from Nova Scotia and arrival in Louisiana in the 18th century.
In "Camera Obscrua," Soileau's one story in which characters leave Louisiana and struggle to adapt to a new place, the narrator observes "We are watching forgetting. This is what forgetting looks like."
Soileau in her stories shows what remembering looks like.