Stephanie Soileau’s “The Ranger Queen of Sulphur” is a masterful exploration of the traps we see and unwittingly set for ourselves when we accept too many limitations.
I grew up in a small decaying town, and I know the feeling of being trapped, the sense of having no options, that can prevail in these areas. Stephanie Soileau’s “The Ranger Queen of Sulphur” is set in one of these towns—Sulphur, Louisiana—and tells the story of Deana, a young woman in her mid-twenties who has eschewed self-improvement all her life and is now trapped in a low-paying, exploitative job she hates. Never one to hope for herself, Deana fixates on helping her brother, Jonathan, overcome his obesity.
The language of the piece is simple and straightforward, perfectly capturing Deana’s thoughts, and the bleak, hopeless atmosphere, without sacrificing art or lyricism. The sentences have a quiet rhythm, forlorn and practical, yet musical. Each scene too is well-drawn, giving a sense of completeness and desolation.
To me, though, the epiphanic structure is the story’s most striking feature. Deana has, until now, exhibited the typical teenage reaction to her circumstances—the town is awful, there’s nothing to do here, so why bother. She can’t understand her former classmates, or people like them, who “ran for student government or hung out in the art room making beaded necklaces and marionettes out of papier-mâché, who wrote columns, plays, poems, songs, learned guitar, like they thought anyone actually gave a fuck, like they thought they could actually do something.” But at twenty-six, Deana’s interest in her brother’s problems is a precursor to her heartbreaking yet encouraging realization that she is the source of her own unhappiness.
“…if it wasn’t this, what was it? It was her, it was in her. It was something awful in her.”
It’s an effective realization; amid Deana’s problems and the sadness in her life, I began to understand her. Almost against my will, I could see her world as she did, and for that reason, her new fire felt as rejuvenating to me as to her.
You can read “The Ranger Queen of Sulphur” in its entirety in the forthcoming best of Ecotone anthology, Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon, due out in March 2014.