I didn’t know what to expect when I chose to read SOUTHERNMOST. I would have picked it up way sooner! It begins with a jolt and takes the reins and keeps on getting better and better. I kept waiting for it to lose momentum, but it didn’t…
“The rain had been falling with a pounding meanness, without ceasing for two days, and then the water rose all at once in the middle of the night, a brutal rush so fast Asher thought at first a dam might have broken somewhere upstream. The ground had simply become so saturated it could not hold any more water. All creeks were conspiring down the ridges until they washed out in the Cumberland. There was no use in anyone going to bed because they all knew what was going to happen. They only had to wait.”
The paragraph above is the first one in the book. What an introduction! My heart was pounding and I hadn’t even turned the first page.
Asher Sharp is a Pentecostal Preacher in a small town in Tennessee. He is looking for his 8-year-old son Justin who disappeared after the flood. He figures Justin took off to find his dog who’s been missing. What he discovers is the raging waters of the Cumberland River have devastated the area. He watches as a neighbor’s house is swept down the river with three humans hollering in terror. When he sees Justin he is with two men who help save two of the people. It’s a harrowing scene that will stay with me forever.
Who are these two men? The two men are a gay couple new to the area who lost their own home in the flood. The faith of the parishioners does not abide a gay couple. And Asher’s wife coldly denies them aid when they need it most. This is the beginning of the end of Asher’s marriage and he begins to question his faith. Some things are just wrong.
Written with courageous strength, told in spare prose, SOUTHERNMOST is one of the most powerful novels I’ve ever read. It’s important. It’s honest, and it’s a story that runs away with itself. I could not put the book down. And yet I did NOT want it to end.
While we watch Asher’s marriage unravel and then quickly crumble, we find that Asher has a brother who he’s been estranged from for many years. Why? Luke is gay. And years ago Asher and his mother denounced Luke. Luke disappeared. Yet he periodically sent post cards to Asher with no actual address. Then one came from Key West…
Asher’s wife is so embedded in the church that she truly does not see the forest for the trees. Her faith has gotten the best of her. She’s a very conflicted person and Asher does not see her as a fit mother for Justin. Yet, she is awarded full custody of Justin after a video of Asher is made public. Asher has invited the two gay men into the community of his church; a big no-no. The parish is not having it. Their religion has become toxic. Asher has already decided to leave his church when the parishioners who had been his loyal followers toss him out.
Change of scenery: Asher snatches his young son and off they go on the road trip of a lifetime. Boy, does the pace begin to thunder. I’m getting excited just writing this down.
Key West looms way ahead of them. A father’s love pushing him to do the very thing he knows is wrong. But it’s the only thing he can do. And so he does. And the heart pounding begins anew. I want them to get away even though I know this can not end well.
The chapters that take place in the paradise that is Key West are like a love letter to that southernmost city. I have visited the “rock” often in years past and fallen in love with it. The beauty of the gardens, the fellowship of the people, and the downright decency humbles me still. And the beauty of St. Paul’s is not to be missed as it’s smack dab in the middle of Duval Street and has a cameo in this novel.
The South is a complex area of our country. Rural America has earned a reputation that precedes it. Even faith is perceived in a different light.
This new novel dissects love between fathers and sons and brothers and lovers. It does it in a way that sheds light on issues not often looked at in the light of day. Men keep their feelings close. House explores the depths of feelings in a way that is quiet and just.
While reading this book it brought back memories of my own road trip many years ago, from Toronto to Fort Myers. Maybe I’ll write about it one day.
We have copies of SOUTHERNMOST on our new fiction table at Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Florida. They’re discounted 20% as are all new hardcovers. Come on in and purchase your copy. Don’t miss this one. I will be shouting the wonder of this story for a long time!!
I can’t thank the wonderful people at Algonquin Publishers enough for sending me a finished hardcover. All this in exchange for an honest review. Guys, I LOVED it!!