Southernmost

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 19 Jun 2018

Member Reviews

This is a wonderful book about discovering yourself and what you believe in the midst of turmoil.  Asher Sharp is a pastor at a church with strong beliefs that he finds himself questioning.  He is coming to understand God and himself in a different way and is concerned for his son and his upbringing as well.  After a flood, Asher, his family, and his church don't open themselves up to welcome gay neighbors who have also lost everything in the disaster and who helped rescue others.  Asher becomes conflicted and when he and his wife can't see eye to eye he takes his son and heads south to the Florida Keys to look for his brother who he did not stand up for years before when he came out.  This is an touching story about family and personal growth and change.
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As a Tennessean, I really loved this book and found it inevitably plotted and perfectly written. A fundamentalist preacher’s world is shaken up by a flood in his community, and the compassionate rescue actions of a neighboring gay couple make him deeply ashamed when his church refuses to allow them to attend. As a lay preacher, he knows that God is love, but he comes to realize that he does not sense love in the stony hearts of these judgmental congregants.
After a split with his wife, he basically kidnaps his own son and drives blindly until he turns up in Florida, where he has time and space to reassess his life. 
This is written with such honesty. I know these people and places, and it’s spot-on. I wonder, though, if a book like this will reach its ideal audience, because for me Silas House was preaching to the choir. Would people who resemble the sanctimonious church folks be able, or willing, to read this book and be changed by it? I don’t mean to get political, but I was concerned that those who would be the most blessed by this will not read it.
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I found this book to be a little too heavy handed, but otherwise I loved it. It demonstrates the power of tolerance and love, while also showing that for some, getting to that place can require quite a bit of soul searching, especially if you must examine your religious beliefs. At a time when there is so much intolerance in the world, this is a perfect book.
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Beautifully written book with a great message and strong characters. It deals with the question of how a man of religion reconciles his calling with doing what's "right." A timely book.
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Silas House 



SouthernmostThe author Silas House has been on my radar screen for a long time, he's been writing consistently for almost twenty years, often mentioning Lee Smith as one of his mentors. So I wonder why I'm only just now getting around to reading one of his novels? Perhaps it was my constant quest for books to review for the Florida Book Page (http://news.wgcu.org/programs/florida-book-page) that finally brought me to him and his new book "Southernmost," the title a reference to that concrete buoy at the tip of Key West that signals the farthest southern latitude in the continental United States - a ubiquitous lure for selfie aficionados. 

Mr. House is billed as a "southern writer," a term that seems limiting, and yet one that we readers get immediately. His writing style is relaxed, conversations feel folksy. But this simplicity doesn't hide his penchant for vividly painted details and gorgeous descriptions of the natural world, the likely result of his work as an environmental activist, when he isn't teaching writing at Berea College that is, or advocating for gender rights issues. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/23/opinion/the-battle-for-gay-rights-in-rural-america.html?_r=0

As the book opens, a devastating flood is ravishing the small Tennessee town where Asher Sharp is the local preacher, the man everyone turns to for support in all things great and small. Farms, animals, and whole homes are swept away in a tragedy of biblical proportions just as Pastor Asher has begun to question his belief in a just, loving, but sometimes vengeful God. His crisis of faith drives a wedge between him and his more rigidly pious wife Lydia, a wedge that becomes a chasm when she refuses to shelter a gay couple that have just lost everything to the tumultuous storm.

Though Jimmy and Stephen risked their lives to rescue neighbors and were the ones who found Lydia and Asher's boy Justin before the waters swallowed him up, the  couple was shunned by everyone except Asher and his sensitive boy when they appeared together for Sunday services. In a moment of righteous anger Asher lashes out at his congregation for their paucity of generosity, their meanness of spirit. A woman with a cell phone captures Asher crying tears of frustration as he exhorts his people to open their hearts and a viral post on the internet becomes the catalyst for all the sorrow and miscommunication that follows.

Just spending time with Justin, so bright, articulate, and hyper-sensitive to emotional imbalance, is worth the time you spend in this book. Silas House writes with generosity and a keen understanding of the human condition, delicately exploring the loss of a belief system, the ways in which our past informs our present, the damage parents can do in the name of love, and the ways in which we form new, non-traditional families to replace our broken ones.
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The writing is uneven, poetic and descriptive in parts, and then it lapses into childish dialogue. The author tends to stray into heavy handedness in the effort to push his message instead of letting the actions and conversations reveal what needs to be said. I gave up half-way through this one.
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This book begins in Tennessee after a huge flood destroys a small community and brings two gay men into the home of an evangelical preacher, his wife, and son. The wife’s treatment of this couple helps cleaves their marriage and the congregation of her husband Asher. We learn that Asher has a familial secret that drives his compassion for the gay couple. After losing custody of his son based on his seemingly irrational defense of same sex couples, he runs away with his son to Florida. I struggled with my feelings towards this action. On the one hand I supported his decision to leave his wife and church but essentially kidnapping his son left me conflicted; it was hard to root for him. The storyline of starting a new life somewhere else, being mysterious about their past and ultimately falling in love with another woman, felt inevitable and a little contrived. However, I did really enjoy the story and thought the characters were well developed. I appreciated the relationship between Asher and his son Justin.
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To be honest, I didn't complete this novel. I was really loving the first third - the writing is so great. But when Asher takes his son and run - gosh it just started feeling like 4 other books I've read recently. Read it for the writing! And if you aren't burned out on novels about men on the raw end of a divorce kidnapping their own kids - read it for that!
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This is the first book I’ve read by Silas House, and I found his writing beautiful and poetic. I felt like he captured the setting perfectly, it shined as its own Southern gem!
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In the wake of a devastating flood along Tennessee’s Cumberland River, evangelical preacher Asher Sharp meets sharp resistance when he welcomes two gay men into his house and his congregation. Troubled by the intolerance of those he loves – and still guilty over his own behavior when his brother came out of the closet – Asher battles back, only to lose his marriage, his church and custody of his son, Justin. He then makes the fateful decision to kidnap Justin and drive to Key West, where he suspects his estranged brother is living. A road trip that begins with a crisis of conscience and faith turns into a journey of self-discovery as Asher seeks acceptance in a community where difference is celebrated. Still, he must face the consequences of his actions if he wants true forgiveness. A master storyteller, House shows a keen understanding of the modern South wrestling with change. (Algonquin Books, $26.95, June 5)
Minneapolis Star Tribune
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4.5 stars.

"'Sometimes we laugh and sometimes we cry and as long as we're alive, we can deal with everything else. You know?'"

Shortly after the Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage, a flood ravages preacher Asher Sharp's small Tennessee town, leaving many in his congregation homeless or with significant property damage. In the wake of the flood, Asher offers shelter to a gay couple, and they begin to visit his church, which roils his congregation to no end, as many believe the flood was caused by the Supreme Court's decision.

Asher's simple act of kindness emphasizes the cracks in his marriage to Lydia, devout and unyielding in her religious beliefs. But for the first time in a long time, Asher realizes that it is not his job to judge, it is his job to offer kindness, shelter, tolerance. These are qualities he didn't offer his own older brother, Luke, when he admitted his homosexuality—Asher turned his back on his brother and Luke left town, never to return again, although he has sent a few cryptic postcards through the years. This time, Asher is determined not to make the same mistakes by letting hate in his heart.

After delivering an emotional sermon preaching tolerance, Asher's congregation votes to remove him from his job. Lydia files for divorce as well as full custody of their nine-year-old son, Justin. Although his faith that he made the right decision is stronger than ever, he cannot face the idea of only seeing his son on occasional weekends and vacations, but he is unwilling to say he was wrong to call for tolerance and acceptance of all people.

With nowhere to turn, Asher takes Justin late one night and the two flee to Key West, where Luke's postcards were sent from. Asher hopes to reunite with his brother after all these years, and perhaps find peace at the same time. But a journey made in fear of being captured is an exhausting one, and Justin vacillates between wanting to be with Asher and wanting to return home to his mother and grandmother. He doesn't understand why all of the adults in his life can't simply agree with one another so that life could return to normal.

In Key West, Asher and Justin find their place in the colorful community, and learn powerful lessons about faith, trust, belief, forgiveness, and the redemptive power of love. But Asher knows in his heart that this happiness must be fleeting, for if he is to teach his son anything beyond not allowing hate in his heart, he must do the right thing and return to Tennessee with Justin.

Is love enough to overcome life's problems, to turn people away from hatred? How do we reconcile the beliefs we've been taught with the way life changes? How do we allow ourselves to let our guard down when we've experienced hurt and prejudice? In his exquisite and emotional new book, Southernmost, Silas House strives to answer those questions.

I thought this was a beautifully written, poignant book, one which really made me think. It's not an unfamiliar story, particularly in these turbulent times where the law says one thing but some people's beliefs cause them to act differently, but it still touches the heart. House's prose is lyrical and his imagery is evocative, and he gives both Asher and Justin distinctive and memorable voices to tell the story.

I wasn't sure what to expect with this book, but I found it completely compelling and a very fast read. I have often wondered how members of the clergy deal with reconciling what they've been taught, the words they live by, with the world they live in, and Southernmost captures that struggle, as well as the struggle to belong, to be understood, and to be loved and accepted for who you are, not judged for whom you love.

NetGalley and Algonquin Books provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!
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This book was well written and very fun to read. The characters were great and I enjoyed the world building. The author does a great job at introducing the characters and moving the plot along. There were a few things that I didn't like, but it wasn't enough to really sway me one way or the other. It's definitely a story that I can get lost in and both feel for the characters. It is definitely a go-to novel that I highly recommend to anyone who loves a great read. Definitely a highly recommended read that I think everyone will enjoy.
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Asher is a father, a preacher, a husband, a brother, struggling with the culture of belief he finds himself in the center or. In the novel, Southernmost, A timely novel, Southernmost deals with the conflict of coming to terms with and standing up for what you believe, even when you know that in doing so you will risk losing everything.

As an Evangelical preacher, Asher has always seen the world through one set of conservatively religious lenses, causing him to reject his gay brother. A catastrophic flood is the catalyst of change for Asher. He finds himself welcoming a gay couple into his church, coming to terms with how wrongly he treated his own brother, and how he can no longer stay in a marriage with a woman whose understanding of God's love is so different from his own. After separating from his wife, losing a custody battle for his son, and being fired from his church, Asher makes a decision that will change his life and his son's life forever.

Homophobia, faith, and what truly makes a family are topics that many readers will identify with. Although painful at times, the author does such a good job of covering each topic with delicate diligence, careful to not overwhelm the reader with too much tension or pressure. This story takes you on a ride that you know won't end well but you can't help but want to stay on the ride with these characters regardless, desperate to see how they will grow and change along the way.

The relationships in this story are honest and believable, never trite or corny. Asher is a man filled with a love and compassion for others that makes living in this world difficult. His love for his son is powerful and causes him to act irrationally at times, but it is a passion that any parent will be able to relate to. I enjoyed this raw and truthful story. I appreciated the realistic portrayal that standing up for what's right, not what's popular in your particular culture, can be a burdensome choice that might leave you isolated and alone. But through Asher's journey, it was made clear to me that although burdensome, standing in your truth can also lead you to find a new loving community through the struggle.

Thank you to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for a free copy of Southernmost in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.
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Let me begin my saying I love the writer Silas House!  However, I did not connect with this book in the way I have with his other works...and I don't really know why :(  All of the elements were there that would indicate I would love this book including a tender, kind man who questions his religion when he finds it lacking in humanity, who explores his past misdeeds and sets his sights on making them right, and one who loves his son and wants to do right by him at all costs.  This book was timely, dealing with small town mentality, religious inflexibility, marriage equality, child custody, and grief that never leaves.  I liked this book...but I should have loved it and be recommending it to everyone I know.  Overall, this book was "just ok" for me; I hope to come back to it at a later date and give it another chance.
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This was my first Silas House read, and I am forever a fan. This was such a great storyline--so thought-provoking, perspective-shifting, life-changing. I fell in love with the characters and cared deeply about the outcome. I cannot say enough good things about Southernmost. This was truly one amazing read.
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I got a little nervous when the book began with a Pentecostal preacher and his uber-devout white suffering but surviving a massive flood just after gay marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court. My nerves were because I hadn’t realized the extent to which this book is based in evangelical religion. That fault is mine.

That being said, things took a turn I was not expecting when Asher, the Pentecostal preacher, stood up for something he wasn’t sure he even understood - same-sex love.

Things escalate very quickly for the first third of House’s novel. As Asher preached acceptance and tolerance but was rebuffed by his congregation, he quickly found himself on the road to divorce, tried to fight to keep his son, assaulted his mother-in-law, and kidnapped his son. I was left with the nagging question of how Asher could be a social media hero of inclusivity if he, you know, commits assault and kidnapping because someone, his wife, didn’t agree with his awakening. Hmm… I hadn’t realized the irony of that as I read the book, but I see it now as I write this review.

Things slow to a crawl in the second third of the novel. The up-side of the slow march was that it is impossible to know how the complicated tale of Asher Sharp’s voyage of self-discovery can possibly end. Whether it ends well or ends badly, there are scant few clues in the narrative. But this part of Asher’s journey takes place in Key West, a location chosen because he thinks his estranged brother might be there - it seems important to mention that he and Luke are estranged because Asher was wholly intolerant when Luke came out of the closet. With his evolving way of thinking, he wants to make amends. Things are tedious but there is the potential for a fantastic finish.

The final third of the novel begins with some promise when, for a variety of reasons, Asher opens up to Bell and Evona, the two Key West women who gave he and Justin a safe space. The promise fades a little when it’s made clear that they knew all along that he was not quite as unremarkable as he hoped to present himself. And he might not have opened up to them were it not for seeing himself and Justin on the Have You Seen Me? flyers at the post office.

It all ends a bit predictably, which is not to say badly. It ends as it should, with Asher following through on being an example of how life should be lived, and corrected.

The moral of House’s book is to not hate others because they are different than you. It is an important lesson, but it does get a little lost in frantic and then slow pacing of this book. The point is made at the expense of pacing and plot.
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Asher Sharp is an evangelical preacher in Tennessee.  His community experiences a terrible flood and “More than one of his congregants . . . blamed this new flood on the Supreme Court’s ruling [in favour of gay marriage].”  A decade earlier, Asher rejected his brother Luke when he announced that he was a homosexual; Luke has been feeling guilty about turning his back on his brother and now welcomes two gay men into his church.  That decision results in his being dismissed as pastor.  Asher also clashes with his wife Lydia because of her religious intolerance and ends up taking his 9-year-old son Justin with him to Key West where he thinks Luke might be living.  

This is not an action-filled novel.  Its pace is slow, with a focus on Asher’s self-reflections. He thinks a great deal about his beliefs and decides he does not want to be the type of person he was:  “Judging and preaching and telling others how to live, filled up with the weight of thinking he knew what God wanted.”  He tells his parishioners, “’For years I’ve preached to you that you should judge others, and lead them to change their ways.  But I’ve changed my way of thinking.  What I’m telling you right now is that the only one who can judge any of us is God above.’”  He tells his wife, “’You’ve gotten belief confused with judgment.  We’re not to judge.  You’ve let all this judgment from the church take you over.  It’s taken the joy out of you.’” 

The evangelical church in Tennessee is not portrayed in a very positive light.  Congregants seem to be very narrow-minded; in fact, the impression is that they want no outside influences.  Asher, for example, mentions that he “had devoted all of his reading to the Bible, of course.  That had been expected of him, to read the Bible and nothing else.  His congregation had hired him because he had not been to seminary.”   A man whose daughter is saved by a gay man is still not willing to welcome him to his church.  Lydia is so fearful that Justin could be a homosexual that she takes him to therapy because of his sensitivity.  

As a contrast to this rigid belief system, the author offers Justin’s all-inclusive beliefs.  He is sensitive to the divine in everything:  “Everything That Is, Is Holy.”  At one point he mentions that “he didn’t believe in God.  Not really.  This was what he believed in.  The Everything.”  While sitting on the beach by the ocean, “Justin can see nothing but ocean, and that is Everything.  And Justin can feel the Everything beneath his hand where he is resting his palm on [his dog’s] chest . . . He can feel the Everything under himself in the gritty sand.  He can smell it in the seaweedy smell smoothing over his face.  He can hear it in the laughter of teenagers down the beach . . . The ocean is God but so are we all.”

Though Asher grows as a person, he is not always likeable.  His decisions concerning his son are well-intentioned but he gives little consideration to the consequences for himself and others.  Sometimes he is also downright stupid, as in not using fake names.  Above all, he is selfish.  He focuses on his love for his son without considering his son’s love for others and on what he has lost by not being in contact with Luke without thinking about what Luke has lost and must feel.  Asher sees himself as a victim of injustice but doesn’t realize that his actions are often unjust towards others.  He does take measures to take responsibility and make amends but he could have saved himself and others from so much suffering.

The diction is noteworthy:  “a sky groaned open from a black night” and “he saw the massively swollen river supping at the edges of the lower fields” and “He maneuvered his Jeep across two bridges whose undersides were being caressed by the river and by the time he got to her house the water was nipping at her porch.”  

Some of the events stretch the reader’s credulity.  Asher gets a job without revealing his surname?  For three months, Asher and Justin manage to avoid being discovered?   A woman who has lost a child would be so forgiving of Asher’s behaviour towards Justin’s mother? 

The book does offer food for thought, but its slow pace and predictability make it less enjoyable.  

Note:  I received a digital galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.
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The setting: Asher Sharp, an evangelical preacher in a small community along the Cumberland River in Tennessee, faces a crisis of faith, marriage, community, and fatherhood. In the aftermath of a flood he tries to offer shelter to two gay men, setting off a course where his marriage and livelihood come crashing down. A sermon he delivers defending the right of gays to exist without condemnation goes viral. He flees to Key West with his nine-year old son, Justin, thinking that's where his estranged brother lives [who, it turns out, is also gay]. 

The story is really set in motion when Asher takes [kidnaps] Justin from his mother-in-law, Zelda--who he is closer to than his own [dead] mother, and seemingly, his wife. He believes that the court system will not serve him well and that he will not be awarded joint custody. And so he sets off on the run in the South.

This simplistic book seemed very much like a YA novel. Linnear to the point of often seeming flat. What was there? Spirituality. Love. Family. Flaws. Dogs. Certainly contemporary and timely. BUT. Not enough. And what was a disconnect for me? The few words from the mouth of a nine-year old--I think not--too "old"/wise for his age.

The women were well drawn and save for his wife, Lydia, sympathetic. And the two female characters in Key West--Bell and Evona--were a breath of fresh air. Zelda, Asher's mother-in-law was a conflicted woman, but certainly realistic. 

In Key West, Asher and Justin are hiding in plain sight. Luke--finally found. And, for Asher, self-awakening combined with being torn between what is right and what is wrong. Who is to judge? Love, not hate, and forgiveness--these are the messages.

I did like some of the language and descriptions. Asher married Lydia: "...to have a mother [Zelda], to have arms around him to let him know he mattered." [as he did not in his own family]. "crickets rosined their bows" "mouth opened in morunful exhaustion"

But, I'm clearly in the minority considering some of the rave reviews.
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I've heard a lot about this author and I do believe he writes beautifully. But the subject was another thing. I can see a minister wanting to help but not struggling so much about God's word, leaving his marriage and then kidnapping his son. Just too much!
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This book will be released on my birthday!  I can't wait to share it with our patrons.  What a gift to all of us readers of fine fiction,
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