If you should happen to find yourself within reach of the 1996-2005 Best of the South collection of short stories, for goodness sake, pick it up and read the last story, Stephanie Soileau’s “The Boucherie.” It’s only cricket for me to disclose that I knew the author way back when, and it’s only true to say that way back then I already loved her writing, eagerly devouring any I could get my hands on, and foresaw great things for her. Her voice is fresh and easy and intoxicatingly funny in a way that’s both sharp and gentle. Here are the opening paragraphs of this entirely wonderful story:
Of course it would be exaggerating to say that Slug had so estranged himself from the neighborhood that a phone call from him was as astonishing to Della as, say, a rainfall of fish, or blood, or manna, and as baffling in portent. Still, as Della stood, phone in hand, about to wake her husband, Alvin, who was sleeping through the six o’clock news in his recliner, she sensed with a sort of holy clearness of heart that what was happening on the television–two cows dropping down through the trees and onto somebody’s picnic in the park–was tied, figuratively if not causally, to the call from Slug. “Mais, the cows done flew,” she thought.
The anchorwoman for the Baton Rouge news announced that a livestock trailer carrying over a hundred head of cattle on their way to processing had plunged over the entrance ramp’s railing at the Interstate 10 and Hwy 110 junction that morning. The driver had been speeding, possibly drunk, though definitely decapitated. More than a dozen cattle were crushed outright. Several others survived the wreck only to climb over the edge of I-110 and drop to their deaths in the park below, while the remaining seventy-or-so, dazed and frightened, fled down the interstate or into the leafy shelter of the surrounding neighborhoods, followed by a band of cowboys called in for the impromptu roundup.
As for the rest of the story, let’s just say that one of those cows brings a neighborhood together in the most unexpected way, and that you should read it. “The Boucherie” originally appeared in StoryQuarterly, where it was spotted by Shannon Ravenel and selected for New Stories from the South 2005 before being selected by Anne Tyler from among the last ten volumes of New Stories for this super-anthology and earning the anchor position therein. Brava! We’ll hear more from Ms. Soileau, I’m certain.