“Southernmost” is a thoughtful contemplation of tolerance, acceptance and the role of religion in everyday life.
Asher Sharp is a self-taught Pentecostal preacher in a small town outside Nashville, Tennessee. When we first meet him, the town is in the midst of a flood brought on by incessant rain and a rising river. Asher rescues his beloved mother-in-law, Zelda, and takes her to his home, which sits high and is protected from the flooding. He arrives home to a distraught eight year old son, Justin, who is unable to locate the family dog, Roscoe.
Justin runs off in search of Roscoe and Asher goes in search of Justin. The flood waters are rising and Asher is relieved to see Justin in the care of two men. At the same time that he sees Justin, he sees a house completely deluged, with a man and woman trapped on the second level. Asher and one of the men with Justin risk their lives to save the pair, Cyril and his teenage daughter.
After the rescue, Asher, Justin, the two men and the rescued pair return to Asher’s home. It becomes clear that the two men, a country singer, Jimmy and Stephen, are a couple. Asher’s wife, Lydia, vehemently opposes having the two men in the house, and over Asher’s objection, they leave. This episode is the beginning of tensions in the marriage.
Justin is a very sensitive eight year old. His mother is extremely concerned about his emotional fragility and sends him to a therapist in Nashville without Asher’s knowledge. When Asher becomes aware of Lydia’s actions the tension rises.
Jimmy and Stephen start attending Asher’s church, where the congregation is extremely intolerant. In fact, “[m]ore than one of his congregants had blamed this new flood on the Supreme Court’s ruling. No coincidence that the rain had started the same day as the marriages started happening over in Nashville, they said.”
The congregation effectively gives Asher an ultimatum, culminating in a fiery speech by Asher about the role of religion, tolerance and love. One of the congregants video tapes his speech and it goes viral on social media, making him look like both a hero and a lunatic. He is voted out of the congregation. His marriage fails and because of the video he loses custody rights of his beloved son, Justin. That is when everything simply goes off the rails.
During the story we learn that Asher has a gay brother whom Asher and his mother rejected on the basis of their religious beliefs. Asher has not seen his brother, Luke, in 10 years. Periodically, Asher receives an anonymous postcard from Key West with a poem or quote which he knows is from Luke.
I will not tell you the rest of the story (I have probably told you more than I should), but after losing his congregation Asher starts over and learns more about tolerance, the differing roles of religion, life and love. His son, Justin, refers to religion and G-d as The Everything. The novel has a serious but heartwarming message told through a compelling and thoughtful story. The characters are real and flawed. I really liked this one. You can reserve Southernmost at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.