House, Silas. “Southernmost”, Algonquin Books, 2018.
Judgment, Courage, Heartbreak and Change
After a flood washes away a lot of a small Tennessee town, evangelical preacher Asher Sharp offers shelter to two gay men. The two words that should make you sit up and take notice are “Tennessee” and “evangelical”. This action lets Sharp begin to see his life in a different way but it also puts all that he holds dear at risk. His wife is locked into her religious prejudices and his congregation shuns him after he gives a very passionate sermon in defense of tolerance. Justin, his young son, Justin, is caught in the middle of a bitter custody battle. Sharp now has to struggle with the limits of belief and the infinite ways to love.
Seeing no way out of the situation, Sharp takes Justin and runs away to Key West in hopes that his brother, Luke, a gay man who he turned against years earlier, will help him. It is in Key West that Sharp finds a new way of thinking about the world as well as a new way to understand love.
This, of course, is not a new topic. Religion and homosexuality have filled books for years but what makes this a special red is the tenderness and affection with which it has been written. In it, we gain the opportunity o meditate on love between men and I do not necessarily mean sexual love. Here is love between fathers, sons, brothers, and lovers. We are very aware of a sense of the past here as it relates to love and judgment. Warmth, empathy, tragedy and hope come together here as a pastor deals with “a crisis not just of faith, but of all the apparent certainties of his life: a crisis of marriage, of community, of fatherhood.” Author Silas House shows us the ways we can mess up and go wrong, and only later figure out how we can win our own redemption.
The story and characters are very real and if you have lived in the South, you have lived at least part of the story. A father and son flee one life in search of another and estranged brothers separated by time and their judgment of one another search for redemption. Here is a story of “faith lost and love found” and the journey to them both.
Religion, and the churches treatment of homosexuals has been an ongoing debate in what seems like forever. Here we have a loving preacher who cannot hold steadfastly to the beliefs he has learned and preached his entire life. His son Justin has been raised with love but is now caught it an unenviable situation. Will they find acceptance from two women, with their own past ghosts? Asher will find what he seeks and the strength to do what is right. The characters, full of love and hurt and struggle with many of the things we struggle with. Letting go of what one is taught, the beliefs held by one’s community is difficult and we do not know the mind of God.