The world is actually quite small. I’m a military brat, and I’ve lived in multiple U.S. cities and states for non-government reasons, as well, so I know a few things about incredible connections. Being part of the Catholic blogosphere adds an additional dimension to those connections.
I followed Jen Fulwiler’s blog, Conversion Diary, for some time before I saw her in person, and then for a while longer until I got to meet her. (She really is very tall, but so am I. She even said so.) The Catholic community in Austin is only so large, though, so it was only a matter of time. I was delighted to find out later that she was finally having her memoir, Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It, published. It adds a little extra lagniappe to reading a good, recently-published book when you have friends who may well see the author at Mass on Sundays—and when you could, too.
I didn’t think it would be this good, though.
If you like converts, actually accessible intellectuals (not the kind that are totally still dense like Marc Barnes), or ludicrous parenting stories, you will like Jen Fulwiler. I’d heard versions of her testimony four times before, but as a fan of movie adaptations (not novelizations; those are always terrible), I expected to find gems in the written version. Boy, did I!
Jen was raised an atheist among Bible-belt Christian kids right here in Texas. As a young child, she had a sudden epiphany of the heart of atheist materialism: You don’t matter. This experience we call “life” is just one set of chemical reactions after another, which at some point will end. No one else matters, either. Immediately after realizing this, she was distracted by a particularly Jen-like encounter that brought happiness flooding in. That became her life’s goal: seek happiness, be distracted by it, and don’t think about the nothingness that lies in wait.
That only worked for so long, though. By her mid-twenties, Jen found herself with a solid tech education and experience, a loving husband (who was a Christian, even though he was so smart), a law firm they started together, and a newborn baby. She had so much happiness. But the darkness wouldn’t go away.
It is the story of trying to find that happiness from any source other than God that led Jen to the Catholic Church.
As I said, if you’ve heard Jen’s story before, most of that is familiar. I, too, wondered if I was just getting an expanded version of Jen’s testimony notes. Nope! In the years up to its publication, the memoir went through multiple full revisions. Jen shared a conversation with her agent where he directed her to find her story’s antagonist. I love stories, so I can get behind that advice. I was intrigued when she mentioned how much “finding the antagonist” affected her storytelling, and having read the book, I can tell you that it was absolutely critical.
So, to me, Jen’s story is not just about how, beyond all reasonable prediction, she became a Catholic stay-at-home mom of six with a writing career and a husband who is an attorney by day and a banana by night. It’s about facing the antagonist in her life and finding that the way to defeat it was with the One who conquers all evil. It’s about wrestling with the angel (fallen or otherwise) and coming away injured yet whole.
I don’t know if I’ve found my antagonist yet, but I am confident that, with Jesus by my side, too, I will conquer it.
This review was written as part of the Tiber River Reviewer Program. I received points toward free or discounted merchandise in exchange for my honest review of this book. For more reviews of Catholic books, visit Tiber River. To purchase Catholic products of all kinds (not just books), visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.