Southernmost

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 19 Jun 2018

Member Reviews

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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I received this on #netgalley in exchange for my review. A disgraced evangelical preacher finds his religion and community too angry and judgmental. After a divorce, he kidnaps his son and goes to Key West where he hopes to find his estranged brother. These huge transformations happen quickly without much exploration of the cause. Overall, I found the themes, development, characters and the writing to be overly simplistic and sentimental. 2.5⭐️
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Surprised at how emotional this book is. Doesn't go for the jugular like some books, but it was evocative. Well done.
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I hadn’t read a book by Silas House prior to this and I can promise it won't be the last. This book is written with such gorgeous language. The story is of Asher, who is an evangelical preacher, born and raised in Tennessee, where he still lives with his wife and 9 year old son. I was concerned that, as a reader who is not religious that I would have a difficult time with some of the ideas.  House has done a great job of leaving scripture and Bible at the door, and writes about heart. 

The story is set on the Cumberland River that experiences the devastation of a 100 year flood and as a result, the community is ravaged by flood waters.  Asher spends days helping neighbors and of course, his church members.  A gay couple within the community is in need of shelter and  Asher’s wife refuses to help them. Asher responds to this with a crisis of faith.  This book makes me think of a coming-of-age story, even though the character is an adult.  Asher finds his heart. 
Southernmost is a beautifully crafted and very well written contemporary novel.   
Thank you to #NetGalley for the opportunity to read this prior to publication in exchange for an honest review.
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I have a pl;ace in my heart and in my bookshelf for those literary ministers/pastors/priests who journey through a crisis of faith and find growth, love and or redemption.  From the classics of Graham Greene and Willa Cather to the more recent works of Hilary Mantel (Fludd),  Andre Alexis (Pastoral),  Elizabeth Strout (Abide With Me) and of course Marilyn Robinson's wonderful trilogy, men (always men) of faith find their way and take me along. Now there is Silas Simon offering the journey suited to our time.  It is an engaging, hopeful and brave story and I love it.
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Yikes, this was transparent. It felt like getting hit over the head with the moral of the story. I didn't finish it.
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In an editorial in the Washington Post on May 7, 2018, E.J. Dionne writes that "[m]any young people [have come] to regard religion as 'judgmental, homophobic, hypocritical and too political.'"  Asher Sharp couldn't agree more.  He's a Holy Roller pastor who's having a crisis of faith.  He's been harboring some long-standing guilt about how he and his mother treated his brother when he came out as gay, and when he's forced to turn away a gay couple seeking shelter in a flood, his crisis comes to a head.  In trying to accept the two men into his church, he loses his pulpit, and in trying to bring his more liberal thinking into his own home, he loses his wife and son.

Faced with a protracted custody battle, Asher kidnaps his son, Justin, and spirits him away to Key West to find Asher's long-estranged brother, Luke.  What follows is... not much.  Justin and Asher find a home at a small resort hotel on the island, and Asher works as a general handyman.  But neither of them do much, except think deep thoughts about God, and faith, and the church, and judgment, and holiness.  This is a very introspective, slow-moving, but beautifully written book.
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Thank you, Silas House, for writing this book. It compassionately looks at a hugely controversial, divisive issue – I should say, it looks at the people that are surrounding the issue. The issue is homosexuality. House’s story doesn’t give answers. It just loves the people involved, from the pastor who’s decided all people should be treated well regardless of their orientation to his fearful wife to the gay couple serve as Asher’s catalyst to the angry church people who reject him. 

Asher Sharp is a pastor in an American community that overall does not like gay people. They are an abomination before God. Asher thought so too, preaching the common “love the sinner, hate the sin” bumper sticker answer. Except many in his community can’t even do that. His mother definitely hated the sinner. But as much as Asher believed homosexuality to be wrong, he could never hate his brother even when he acted hateful towards Luke… and lost him. Ten years later, Asher is still aching for his big brother.  And changing. As much as he changes, though, he stays the same trading judgement of Luke to judgement of his own rigid wife. Lydia can’t even allow a newly homeless couple to stay in their home for one night. For Asher it's the last straw. What follows is a life torn apart by a community that won’t accept their pastor’s new views, a son lost to his angry ex, and horrible decision made in desperation. 

One of the most powerful moments in Southernmost for me is before Asher leaves Lydia. She asks him, “I’m at fault because I’ve stayed the same and you’ve changed?” After a moment he replies, “I reckon so.”

It’s a gracious story about a strongly religious man who has devoted his life to his faith and his community. When he begins to publicly (and rather thoughtlessly) challenge their beliefs on homosexuality he is thrown out. But he wants to be thrown out. Asher is broken and not handling his crisis well. He is as done with them as they are with him. The only things that matters anymore is his son and brother. But. He never loses his faith in God. In beginning to heal, he finds that many different kinds of people are also hanging onto their own faith… and some of his greatest supporters turn out to have very different beliefs than himself. 

A copy of this book was provided by Netgalley for an honest review.
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At university, I took a course in religion with a professor who was ordained and had studied under Karl Barth. He told me that students come into his class with a naive belief and what he taught shook them for they had never viewed their faith community and beliefs from the 'outside'. And, the professor continued, perhaps they will later return to their church and reaffirm it, this time with a deeper kind of faith.

But letting go of what one is taught, the beliefs held by one's community is rare and hard. I watched church leaders endeavor to destroy a church over their perceptions of the denomination's Social Principles as approving sin. It is more common for people to destroy what they fear than to change what they believe.  

"None of us can know the mind of God. He's too big for that." Rev. Asher in Southernmost
I was drawn to read Southernmost by Silas House because it is about an Evangelical pastor who realizes that his narrow understanding of what God requires has created hate and bigotry, casting some into the outer darkness, and thus impairing his own soul. 

When a flood leaves a gay couple homeless, Asher invites them into his house, a holy hospitality which his wife cannot tolerate. Asher has felt guilt over participating in his family's and community's condemnation of his brother Luke when he came out as gay.  When the gay couple comes to worship, Asher tries to lead his flock and his family to an understanding of love and hospitality, but they are recalcitrant. He can only move on, leaving his church and his wife.

Asher's wife Lydia keeps their son hostage, insistent that only she can raise him in the right values now that Asher has 'gone crazy'. In fact, she has been so fearful that gayness runs in the family, she rejects her son's sensitivity and non-violence. Unable to bear separation from his son, Asher rashly kidnaps him, then travels south to the Florida Keys to find his estranged brother. It is time to make amends for his sins.

Asher buys a moment in time alone with his son but knows it can't be sustained. He has to return his son home and face the consequences, hoping his wife will be merciful and not vengeful.

The pacing of the novel is like a symphony that starts with an Allegro and immediate action, then settling into a slower Adagio before rising to a fast-moving Scherzo, and finally, resolves in the manner of Tchaikovsky with a slower, more internalized, final movement. 

I was interested by the characters' grappling with what God requires of us.

And what does the Lord require of you except to be just, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

"Hebrews says to entertain strangers," Asher tells Lydia. "Love the sinner, hate the sin," she responds. "You've gotten belief confused with judgment," Asher responds; "They are our neighbors."

Lydia holds steadfast to what she had been taught, resisting a changing world that tells her what she knows is wrong is now normal. She believes keeping Justin from Asher is a battle for her son's soul. 

Asher has come to doubt everything he grew up accepting; "I have been on the road to Damascus," he thinks. His eyes have been opened. Paul had persecuted the Christians, and struck blind on the Damascus road saw the truth and converted to Christianity. Asher's rejection of gays, including his own brother, was blindness. "You can use the Word to judge and condemn people or you can use it to love them." Judging his brother became the seed of doubt in his faith.

Justin has his own faith, a sensitivity for the divine, seeing God in the Everything. Forgiveness is the easiest thing in the world, he believes. Forgetting is the hard part. Justin sees the greater truths and offers us a faith that transcends human institutions.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Final note: Luke tells Asher that he spend time in Grand Haven, Michigan, "in winter the most lonesome place I've seen." Amen! We spent one winter in an even smaller Lake Michigan resort town up the coast from Grand Haven. In winter the businesses closed--except for the bars and a small grocery store that was half open. The houses around us were empty, summer homes. You could walk down the middle of the streets. It was one lonesome place.
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This is my first Silas House and I can promise it won't be the last. Absolutely gorgeous. The story of Asher is heartfelt and imbued with meaning. Based on the description I was slightly worried that it would be too tense, i.e. that his wife's close-minded position would infuriate me and I wouldn't be able to enjoy the story. But House is such a great storyteller that I was enraptured from page one. At its heart (and oh what a big and wonderful heart it is) I would describe this novel as a coming of age. Even though it's about an adult, that's nonetheless what it feels like.
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HIGHLY RECOMMEND,  with thanks to the author, Silas House, the publisher, Algonquin Books, and netgalley.com for the advanced reader copy.

Southernmost is a beautifully crafted and very well written contemporary novel.  Asher Sharp is an evangelical preacher, born and raised in Tennessee, where he still lives with his wife and 9 year old son.  When the Cumberland River reaches extreme flood levels, their community is ravaged by the waters.  He spends days helping neighbors and his church members.  The need of a gay couple, and his wife's unwillingness to house them, leads him to a personal crisis as well as a crisis of faith and career.  As everything about his life changes, his love for his son and his sorrow for disavowing his own gay brother years before.  Part coming-of-age story, part road story, and many parts redemption., this is a novel I thoroughly enjoyed and found extremely rich and satisfying.
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People have the right to their own beliefs, but does that include the right to hold others accountable to standards that may not be their own.  That is what our main character is struggling with in the pages of this book.  A minister, who preaches against same-sex relationships, finds himself making difficult choices.  Shouldn't kindness be the rule of thumb, regardless of life choices?  This is a story that needs to be told.
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I received a DIGITAL Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  
From the publisher --- 
"In Silas House’s moving new novel, a pastor wrestles with a crisis not just of faith but of all the apparent certainties of his life: a crisis of marriage, of community, of fatherhood. This is a novel of painful, finally revelatory awakening, of fierce love and necessary disaster, of the bravery required to escape the prison of our days, to make a better and more worthy life.”—Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You

When a flood washes away much of a small community along the Cumberland River in Tennessee, Asher Sharp, an evangelical preacher there, starts to see his life anew. He has already lost a brother due to his inability to embrace his brother’s coming out of the closet. Now, in the aftermath of the flood, he tries to offer shelter to two gay men, but he’s met with resistance by his wife. Furious about her prejudice, Asher delivers a sermon where he passionately defends the right of gay people to exist without condemnation.
In the heated battle that ensues, Asher loses his job, his wife, and custody of his son, Justin. As Asher worries over what will become of the boy, whom his wife is determined to control, he decides to kidnap Justin and take him to Key West, where he suspects that his estranged brother is now living. It’s there that Asher and Justin see a new way of thinking and loving.
Southernmost is a tender and heartbreaking novel about love and its consequences, both within the South and beyond.
This is a southern novel to the “t” – tragedy, discrimination, salvation (of a kind) and family troubles and tribulations all wrapped up in one book. Best read on a hot day with a glass of sweet tea, it makes one think about every belief that they hold true to themselves: is it really right for us to judge other? Well I judge this book and I liked it!
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This is the first Silas House book I've read. I generally like southern authors for their lyrical language and conflicted characters. This book does not disappoint. Asher, the main character, grows up in a very short time after spending most of his adult life still under the cloud of first his dead mother and then his single-minded wife. The atmosphere of the flood at the beginning of the story echoes the closedness of his life. When he finally ends up in Key West with his son, the world is opening up for him as he opens up to all kinds of people and finally learns to forgive himself. His son Justin is a beautifully described child.
The story, however, is short on plot. Not much really happens. Some books would make better television series than movies. This one could easily be a Lifetime movie. You'd miss the language, but the plot would fit easily.
I would recommend this to people who like southern writers.
Thanks to Algonquin Books for the letting me read the advanced copy.
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Asher Sharp is an evangelical pastor in tiny Cumberland Gap TN. A dreadful flood washes away the homes of many of his parishioners. Asher comes to the realization he needs to see his life in a new way and it causes his congregation to turn against him and dismiss him. He kidnaps his son, Justin, and flees to Key West in an effort to find his brother, Luke, who abandoned the family years ago. Luke is gay and Asher could not reconcile this fact with his religious fervor. But now Asher sees God in everything, not just in his religion and this has turned Asher's life upside down. A powerful and insightful commentary on love and disaster and the bravery of living your life every day. Highly recommended for discerning readers
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This book is a tearjerker, but I really liked the way the author handled the multiple topics in the book. Asher Sharp is a good, respectable man. He's a Pentecostal priest in a small Tennessee town, helps his neighbors, takes care of his wife and son, all the stuff you would expect of such a man. However, after a devastating flood, Asher has a sort of crisis of faith. He's no longer the fire and brimstone preacher he once was. When a gay couple starts to come to church, the congregation rejects them. Asher defends their right to not be turned away. The town still rejects them, and now their pastor, too. Asher loses his job, his marriage, and his son in the following custody battle. At his wits end, he decides to run away to Key West, hoping to find something there he's lost. 

House does a great job making his characters realistic and empathetic. Despite only getting a view of Asher's life in a certain time frame, you really get to see how this crisis has been a long time coming. I understood everyone's motivations and why they did what they did, even if their actions were going to have some terrible consequences. Not super important, but I found it a bit jarring when the author switched tenses in the third part of the book. Some may find it intriguing, I found it distracting. Overall, a beautifully written book.
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The beginning was descriptions of a flood that I could feel.
Living through many floods I could also relate.  

A preacher who has doubts and difficulty praying...
He is still feeling the loss of his brother
(who was exiled due to his own coming out)...
so he makes a big move for ALL rights
the consequences are severe and hurtful for several
then Forcing him to make a big change.

There are many different kinds of prayer and beliefs.
I am a big fan of Dolly- love her being mentioned :)
I liked the story beginning- but it dragged on in Key West- I got lost 
in the story with all the extra characters involved - not important...
Wished the ending was clearer- I had to go back and read it again to solve mystery.
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