04 March 2014

Book Review: Finding Mr. Righteous – Bridget Jones Diary Does the District of Calamity

Lisa De Pasquale’s first published book is  Finding Mr. Righteous   (Post Hill Press (2014),  241 pages) which chronicles her dozen years of dating in the DC area.  De Pasquale worked in conservative circles, but the book mostly eschews politics. De Pasquale’s friend and mentor Ann Coulter blurbed about Finding Mr. Righteous as “A true Christian story, disguised as racy Chick Lit.  Her  prologue proclaims: “ This book is about the men I’ve met in a quest to know Him.”  While Chick Lit is not in my usual reading wheelhouse,  I was intrigued to learn of a faith quest which was augmented by being involved with: an atheist; a Catholic; an Evangelical;, a Quaker;  a prominent Protestant preacher; a Jew; an Asiatic Indian; as well as a non-denominational Believer.  

De Pasquale should be credited for her candor in writing about uncomfortable personal attributes.  She makes no bones about being a self described chubby girl and battling the bulge through exercise and surgery.  De Pasquale reveals how facial hair imperiled one of her relationships. She recognizes how her temperament may not be as gregarious as other political animals.  She does not sugar coat having to scramble scrambling to find work when being let go from positions.  De Pasquale also opens about about her insecurities about being able to attract and keep men in her life.  The book has the quality of being like Bridget Jones Diary Does the District of Calamity, with the caveat that the author is decidedly based in Northern Virginia and not directly in DC.

For most of the book, De Pasquale’s writing style takes a breezy, conversational tone, including her recounted email epistolary exchanges.  She had two wonderful bon mots which joyfully describe that drive to be a conservative in the belly of the beast between-the-beltways.  Noting that networking is DC speak for drinking with people in the same career field as you rings quite true.  And De Pasquale's  funny introduction of Rush Limbaugh by claiming: “I became a conservative in the backseat of a Camaro” had supreme comedic chops. 

The author is skilled at injecting a local flair into her prose, eidetically detailing conversations in local watering holes and renowned local churches.  However, this street credibility becomes obscured by De Pasquale’s conscientious blurring of organizations where she worked.  It may be wise to not state forthrightly within the text that she worked for CPAC et cetera, but the non-specific synonyms conflicted with otherwise realistic style of being a raconteur.  

One of her professional challenges was politics due to association with GOProud, a group of conservative homosexuals, which had tarnished her rising star amongst movement Conservatives. Later, De Pasquale actively associates with GOProud during the 2012 Tampa convention.  The book does not grapple with how her ideals of equality in sexual identity conflict with religious conservative conventions or it deeply impacted her faith.  Once again, it highlights a trait of  including too many insignificant details without delving deeper, which  blunts the story of  her spiritual journey.

De Pasquale was baptizes as a Catholic but had never attended Mass until her Catholic boyfriend took her to one on the Catholic University campus.   She was rebaptized at the age of ten at a Florida Southern Baptist church even though she did not feel the call.   But De Pasquale thought of herself as a Christian-In-Name-Only (CINO). Thus she was not troubled to be  being romantically involved with an atheist. The author often vexed that she did not feel like she was a member of the (Christian) club.

It is a pity that for most of her ecumenical amorous encounters De Pasquale seems deeply superficial.  When she went to Mass with her Catholic squeeze, she commented that she felt awkward since she did neither instinctively know when to stand nor did did she know the ritual prayers by rote memory.  Thus the author admits to not knowing what was going on. But she did not really seem to demand a Catechesis. When her Catholic boyfriend would offhandedly mention that he was going to bible study at a bar (presumably Theology on Tap), she was confused but  never pursued it further.  When questioned about his faith, the Catholic said: “I’m Catholic.  This is what I believe, and you’re welcomed to come if you’re into it.”  Apparently, that open invitation was not evangelical enough.

De Pasquale pursued an older interest who was labeled “The Evangelical”.  That hardly seems like an apt description of someone attending  The Falls Church (Anglican).  They are more evangelical than Anglo-Catholic, but their worship is sacramental in nature which would be at odd with a Pentacostals Christians who are often associated with Evangelicals.  Apparently offering a prayer of joy to a stressed acquaintance, a well loved booklet, a study bible and encouraging her twice attend church was insufficient evangelization.  Ironically, it did not seem that the author really read the shared spiritual literature. .

De Pasquale engages in  affairs with a Quaker, and a Jew.  The only insight on Quakerism was that men and women are separated when worshiping.   She also did not appreciate the complicated sensibilities of the modern Jewry. In her sarcastic manner, she teased her paramour as being a greedy Jew who never went to synagogue.  The author did not seem to consider  how many Jews identify with their culture but are ambivalent about practicing the faith itself. 

In the  denouement of Finding Mr. Righteous, De Pasquale’s conscience was touched by the example of an upright Christian, and she realized that she her willing participation in affairs made her no better than the religious hypocrites with whom she was involved, yet she lets the divorced Preacher who used her for phone sex off pretty lightly. 

The style of the book shifted at the end which ceded the focus to Mr. Righteous’ recounting of the story about Bathsheba, which was told in detailed prose, punctuated by a contemporary explicative.  For the author, this non-pretentious, non-judgmental sharing was the sort of sharing which spoke to her soul. 

After reading this self proclaimed Chick Lit, I am happy that the author has found her path on the journey home, it did not strike me as an instructive book for others to do so. Several times, the author opined that  Christianity was a club.  As someone with a sacramental spirituality, I understand Baptism as both a ritual to join a family of redeemed sinners (i.e. Christians) and as a rebirth to new life by our Savior’s expiation of the wages of sin.  Knowing that a Heavenly Father loves us so much that he would send his only begotten Son to die for us to remain in relation with Him could greatly increase the self-esteem of a believer.   Moreover, Christians usually put this faith into practice via a community and reach out to the world. How this has translated  in the author’s experience is unclear. 

Read Finding Mr. Righteous if you want to enjoy a page turner piece of Chick Lit.  Alas, the book is unlikely to  satisfy an enthusiast of the New Evangelization, a conservative political junkie  or someone seeking insight on deepening one’s Christian faith.

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