Monday, June 11, 2018

Book Review: "Southernmost" by Silas House

"'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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