The Constant Convert
Salvation and the Drama of Publication
I'm always looking for a reason to put down a book once I've started it. The Me Years kept me up late at night, and it was the first thing I reached for the next morning. I was engrossed through the very last page.
The book reads more like a novel than a memoir, as Finnigan, a cradle-Catholic, carries on an ill-fated romance with a misanthropic atheist in "the absurd corporate culture of a failing start-up." And yet, as a memoir, The Me Years deftly encompasses the broad scope of experience that composes one young woman's life so far: a childhood sex-education, coming of age, the burdens of freedom, post 9-11 anxiety, Washington D.C. nightlife, corporate America, the murmur of vulgarity that undergirds youth culture, and the Church—ever-present and waiting to be remembered by young modern Catholics who've never quite understood its claim on their consciousness.
The ultimate drama of The Me Years, however, is the shift of one woman's faith from a peripheral and vague notion of love as Eros to a central and profound understanding of love as Agape, and how, in this way, she grows into the Catholic faith with which her parents gifted her at birth.
Even though it's clear from the first page that the love interest isn't going to last, it takes a while for him to make his exit. And in the course of that time, Finnigan will examine from a secular perspective a number of different social/spiritual questions. What is marriage? Why not sleep with a married man? Readers may wonder when the conversion in this story is going to take place, but when one has grown up more attuned to secular concerns than spiritual ones, there are many different membranes of influence to work through, and Finnigan fascinatingly punctures each one.
It's only after she has discarded all of the possible popular conclusions to her love story (Ellen converts her guy, or is converted by her guy, or gives up boys and writes a book on chastity, for instance), that we come to an understanding of the immensity of God's love. Christianity (or a Christian) cannot comfortably fit into any of those tidy categories, a conclusion borne out through the very last pages of the book, by which time the reader feels released from a narrow main stream into the great wide ocean of belief.
Finnigan's is a story worth telling, one I would have liked to read when I was in the midst of my own Me Years, but the author is working against a deficit when it comes to getting her book into the hands of readers. Without a professional cover designer, the self-published book might not "grab" a reader (let's agree to overlook the cover of The Me Years, which was designed by a friend of the author's). Lacking editorial assistance, readers might discern a handful of typos, and/or paragraphs better left out. Lacking the publicity machine of a major publishing house, the self-published author relies on a handful of readers to buy the book, talk it up, and pass it on to their friends.
Jennifer Fulwiler at the Register recently asked "What would it take for Christianity to dominate the Arts?" Her conclusion is that it would take old-fashioned patrons who could support an author or painter financially or act as mentor and muse whilst the Catholic artist paints his Sistine Chapel.
I would like to extend the charge of patronage to appreciators of art and literature in every financial bracket.
The internet, so far, is free. Buying a self-published book costs about $10, but it doesn't cost anything to promote it among one's peers. Read it, write about it, pass it on. Enthusiastic readers can help the cream of the self-publishers rise to the top. Let people know what books you're reading. And if you're not reading, well then, don't complain about the state of literature these days. Publishing is a supply-and-demand business like anything else, and as long as Catholic readers demonstrate a lack interest in the drama of salvation, publishers will lack interest in supplying the goods.
Elizabeth Duffy is a freelance writer and author of the blog, "Betty Duffy." Her writing has appeared online at Faith and Family, the Korrektiv Press Blog, and numerous other venues. She and her husband live in rural Indiana with their five children.