In Southernmost, novelist Silas House tells the story of Asher Sharp, a young preacher living in rural east Tennessee with his wife, Lydia, and their adolescent son, Justin. After a violent flood tears through their town, Asher provides shelter for a gay couple despite the religious conservatism of the area. Asher’s generosity is influenced in part by the immense guilt that remains from rejecting his gay brother, Luke, many years prior.
Lydia immediately scorns Asher’s act of charity. His church congregation does the same. These acts of rejection cause a disconnect between Asher’s moral and religious principles, leading to a crisis of conscience that upends his life. His congregation removes him as pastor, and he leaves his wife. Asher’s moral conversion is further complicated by the fact that his zealot wife is awarded full custody of Justin. Fearing the loss of his sensitive son, Asher kidnaps Justin, and the two head for Key West, Florida, in search of freedom and new understandings—and in search of Luke.
Southernmost is a well-crafted work that is both emotionally and philosophically resonant. Using detailed imagery and rich dialogue, House allows readers to witness how the transformation of one’s moral foundations, no matter how noble, can disrupt a person’s sense of community and security. It is also a story of freeing the self from the captivity of our various societal structures.
House’s depiction of the contemporary South is vivid, accessible and incredibly enchanting, even during the book’s darkest moments. His complex characters quarrel with popular preconceptions and stereotypes of the region. The South of Southernmost includes areas that are inflexibly governed by dogma, while other spaces allow for autonomy and growth.
Southernmost is a remarkable meditation on faith, morality, loss and love—a transcendent work that has the power to entertain, educate and heal at the same time.