What’s it about?
Southernmost is about a preacher from a small Tennessee town named Asher Sharp. After a flood devastates his parish, Asher tries to help everybody he can. This includes a gay couple, who have recently moved into the area. The church, including Asher’s own wife, cannot accept a gay couple into their community and eventually turn their back on Asher and expel him from his church. Asher decides that he must separate from his wife Lydia when their views diverge to such an extent. This means, however, losing daily contact with his son, Justin. After a speech Asher gives, defending the rights of gay people, goes viral, this is used against him to take his child away. Asher, unable to handle this, takes his son Justin and flees to Key West in Florida, where he hopes to find his long-lost brother Luke, who he turned his back on ten years previously for been gay.
What did I think?
One of the first significant issues I have with Southernmost is that I felt like the portrayal of Lydia and the church felt inauthentic. I didn’t find the characters very believable. Not because of their bigotry, which goes on constantly around the world, but the way they spoke and acted felt disingenuous to me. I understand Silas House was trying to make it so that you could see these people weren’t just bigots but they were scared, worried people and there was a root cause to the bigotry, but it seemed like the characters became lost in the narrative and I didn’t find them very believable.
“He went out onto the front porch. A thin rain was falling, causing breaths of mist to ease out of the ridge cleft across the rive.”
Another problem the book has is pacing. I talk a lot in my reviews about pacing because it is key to my enjoyment of any book. This book felt rushed at the start, Asher’s life changing at such a rollicking pace that you barely feel as if you know him before he has decided to kidnap his own son. Then the middle stretches on far too long, building constantly to the moment we will finally meet Luke, have the reunion, then once we do reach the climax it once more feels rushed as if it is over too soon and everything just seems to happen without enough time for Asher, or the reader, to fully comprehend the situation. This is a real shame as I felt like both the introduction to the story and the climax leading into the ending were by far the strongest parts of the book and I needed more from these sections.
“Asher is pleased by how little they possess. There is a freedom in not having anything. They have every single thing they need and not one bit more”
Overall, the writing is exceptional. Silas House clearly has an affinity for nature and animals and describes them wonderfully throughout the story. Some beautiful passages which I have littered throughout this review. However, there is one passage, towards the climax of the story, in which Justin, the nine-year-old boy, discussed his love of ‘titties’ (authors choice of word). It is so jarring, misplaced and misguided that it completely ruins the momentum the story has built and the ultimately beautiful climax the story is reaching. There is no reason to the passage, it adds nothing to the story, and reads so unnaturally and unrealistic that it nearly ruined the whole book for me. To be clear, I have no issue with using vulgarity in stories, it is often necessary and can add vital components to storytelling. However, to have a nine-year-old boy discussing his recently discovered ‘love of titties’ in a book which up to that point had contained no sexuality whatsoever, seems such a strange choice. Otherwise, Justin is a remarkably thoughtful and measured depiction of a young boy going through severe turmoil which makes it even more uncomfortable to read.
“When you respect a wild thing, they return the favor.”
You may think, after reading this review thus far, that I wouldn’t recommend Southernmost. However, you would be wrong. For all of it’s faults, this book is wonderful in parts. The writing itself is beautiful, lyrical and brave in what it is doing. The relationship between Asher and Justin is perfectly depicted and executed with such feeling that you can’t help cheering for both throughout the story. Silas House has clearly taken his own experience as a parent and funnelled it into the powerful bond between his two main characters. The story did hook me. I kept reading, even when sometimes frustrated, because I needed to know what the outcome would be. Speaking of which, the ending is satisfying, and House does a decent job of bringing the whole book to a close. Most importantly, though, is the message this book is spreading. A message of tolerance and understanding. Of accepting those who are different from us regardless of what we believe and helping all who might need our help regardless of who they are. It is a brave story to tell, not an easy one I can imagine, and Silas House has tackled it head on. Yes, this book has flaws, it is far from perfect, but we don’t always need perfect. Sometimes we need messy and interesting to start discussions. Thanks for reading.