‘Southernmost’ Explores Judgment, Courage, Heartbreak And Change
In his latest novel, Silas House examines what it is like to fundamentally disagree with the people you love. “Southernmost” (Algonquin Books/2018) centers on an evangelical preacher, Asher Sharp, who takes in two gay men after a devastating flood in their small Tennessee town.
His actions come at a huge personal cost — his wife is locked into her religious prejudices and his congregation shuns him after he delivers a sermon in defense of tolerance. Sharp’s wife also wins custody of their young son. The preacher takes his son and flees to Key West to seek out his brother, whom he rejected when he came out years earlier.
The novel is set in contemporary Southern society, which House says is nuanced and rarely portrayed outside the region. He ties Sharp’s dilemma over his son to his own questions about parenthood. House will be at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill on Wednesday, June 13 at 7 p.m. and at Malaprops’ Bookstore in Asheville on Thursday, June 14 at 6 p.m.
Silas House on the connection between “Southernmost” and his own journey as a parent:
What I came to realize is that the defining trait of being a parent is powerlessness – not having any power at all. You know, no matter how hard you fight to protect them, eventually they go out into the great wide world and you're just unleashing them to the hounds, it feels like.
On representing attitudes toward same-sex couples:
One thing I'm trying to do in the book is show the response to this from the wide array of responses. I was raised evangelical. My parents still go to a Holiness church. And so I've seen every iteration of that all the way from the parent who pulls a gun on their child to try to scare the gay out of them, all the way to parents like mine who had these big wide open arms full of love. And so I wanted to show how people of faith have lots of different reactions, and not just one stereotypical reaction.
On the South as a reflection of America:
One reason that I called the book "Southernmost" – not only because it's set in the southernmost point in Key West but also because ... I think all of America is more like the South than it wants to admit. The South is a mirror. And it's a microcosm ... A couple times people have said, "So you wrote this book set in the South to show how this is in the South." And I've said, "No. I set it in the South because it's standing in for America."
His complex experiences with faith:
Even as a child I had real problems with the church that we went to. The first thing I remember noticing is that I felt it was very sexist. It was very gender-segregated. Women were spoken against in the pulpit, et cetera. Then I noticed some of the race issues, xenophobia, homophobia. So I always had an issue with that. But at the same time I was surrounded by really good people who individually would say, “You know, I don't agree with what the preacher said about that.” But they would never have defied the preacher. So all that's confusing but also makes it more complex and makes it more interesting to explore.