Southernmost starts with a flood of biblical proportions. And sends its (mostly) protagonist preacher, Asher Sharp, awash in his own doubts. After a gay couple loses their home yet helps Asher and his son, Justin, to safety during the storm, Asher’s wife refuses to allow them to seek shelter with the Sharps because of their homosexuality. Asher begins to question every bit of his faith. As he internally wrestles with his feelings, he implores his congregation to do the same. Unfortunately, the most scalding portion of his otherwise reasonably tempered speech was captured on video by a child. And it went viral.
With the completely expected ouster from his church and demise of his marriage, Asher cannot accept his limited court granted access with his tender-hearted son, Justin, so he kidnaps him. Is it really kidnapping, you think, as you empathize with his desperate love for his child? Well, yes, taking a kid without letting the other parent know you are doing so and disappearing into the night to places unknown is exactly that.
But, this story provides insight into parental kidnapping that I’d never before considered. Is it wrong and illegal? Of course. Might it sometimes be motivated from a good place? Perhaps.
Asher and Justin head as far south as they can go in a truck. To Key West, where everyone is accepting of anything. On a hunt to find Asher’s long estranged brother, Luke, they meet big chested, bigger hearted Bell of the muumuus. In her small compound of rental cottages, she offers the duo housing and meals in exchange for room cleaning and errand running. She asks no questions.
For a time, their existence in Key West is idyllic. The brief stay is colored by a palette of island life living where no one is a stranger for long, beach swimming is a daily occurrence, quick, deep friendships are made and some damaging past is bandaged up. But the walls of reality are closing in. A loved little boy can’t stay gone forever, even in the mystery that is Key West.
Despite his perceived parting ways with his god, Asher ultimately finds his way back to some faith. Perhaps in a way that will never look like it did before, but who’s to say his new way isn’t better? Although the future remains very uncertain, Justin is able to quell the upsurge of emotions in his young soul with one silently repeated phrase to himself over and over: OliviaBouganvilleaIguana. Once you read it, you’ll get it. And you’ll never forget it.
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Elizabeth’s rating: 4.5 stars