“Southernmost,” the latest novel by Silas House (A Parchment of Leaves) is the story of Asher Sharp, an evangelical minister in rural Tennessee, who faces his greatest moral challenge when two gay men turn to him for shelter, both physical and spiritual, after a devastating flood. Asher first encounters the couple when one of the men saves the lives of a father and his daughter swept downstream by the raging waters, this right after their own home is destroyed. The couple end up cold, wet, and homeless at Asher’s house, but despite knowing in his heart that it is his duty to give assistance, he is unable to help them when the two men overhear his wife’s moral indignation at the idea of them sleeping under the same roof and leave with only a change of dry clothes and directions to a neighbor that might take them in.
Soon after the flood, the two men begin attending Asher’s church, but this time, thinking of his own brother Luke, who was disowned by his family for being gay, Asher refuses to turn them away despite calls from the congregation to do so. This costs him his job and eventually his marriage and custody of his eight year old son, Justin. Desperate to be with his son and worried that he is being harmed by the fire and brimstone teachings at the hands of his mother, Asher takes the boy and flees to Key West, where he hopes to find his brother Luke.
The majority of the book is the story of father and son on the run, and everyone — the reader, Asher, Justin — are left to wonder if Asher has made the right decision to kidnap his son instead of fighting for custody in the courts. Asher is a loving father, and Justin wants to be with him, but a life in hiding is no life for a young boy who misses his mother and loving grandmother back home. It is obvious that it is only a matter of time before something happens, and that anticipation, with Silas House’s quiet, lyrical writing, is what drives the plot of “Southernmost” along.
Katherine Arends is the Branch Manager at the Mebane Public Library and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.