A road novel that mixes warmth, empathy, tragedy, and hope.
Southern novelist House’s (Eli the Good, 2009, etc.) new book is a paean to the wisdom of the heart and the remarkable ability of humans to listen to that wisdom despite a lifetime of believing (or preaching) intolerance. The novel opens in the wake of a catastrophic flood that all but destroys a small Tennessee town, as seen through the eyes of Asher Sharp, a Pentecostal preacher. Asher and his 8-year-old son, Justin, save a neighbor from his house as it literally floats down the river; they are aided by two gay men who have recently moved to the area and who lost their home in the flood as well. Asher is moved by the couple’s selflessness and offers them shelter in his own house, but his archreligious wife cannot abide it. The event shakes Asher sufficiently enough to make him question the foundations of his faith and everything he stands for, and as he begins to preach the gospel of tolerance and open-mindedness, he loses the respect of his congregation and the support of his wife, who attempts to wrestle full custody of Justin from him. At the end of his rope, Asher hops in his Jeep and makes a late-night run for Key West—with Justin in tow. There, he hopes to find and make amends with his estranged brother, Luke, whom Asher hasn’t spoken to since he came out as gay 10 years ago. All of this unfolds in a third-person voice redolent of the rich dialect native to the characters in the story; House has an unsurpassed ear for dialogue, and his prose is spare, fluid, and naturalistic throughout. After such a dramatic beginning, the story slows a bit as Asher and Justin arrive in Key West and get settled into a clandestine existence, but the propulsive pace picks up soon after, as the novel speeds toward its conclusion.
A brave tale of human generosity and the power and peace that come from heeding the courage of one’s convictions.