Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
There's a 1988 Amy Irving movie called Crossing Delancey. When I started to read Mennonite in a Little Black Dress I thought this book would be similar. I pictured a story of Rhoda Janzen's personal conflict between the culture she grew up with and, for lack of a better term, mainstream culture. I imagined I would spend my time with this book watching Janzen come to terms with her background. That isn't at all what this book is about. In fact, there was so little in the book about the Mennonite culture, Janzen needed to add "A Mennonite History Primer" as an Appendix for those of us who "may still have some pressing questions about Mennonites."
The author suffered through some personal hard times. Her marriage ended and she had some health issues. Those problems pushed her back to the home of her parents and gave her a chance to think about the people in her life: her husband, her parents, her sister, and her friends. For the most part this thought process didn't lead Rhoda Janzen to an understanding of the people around her. There were some moments when she expressed an appreciation for them, but she spent most of her time laughing at them. Her father was too cheap. Her mother talked too graphically about bodily functions. She had friends who didn't discipline their children enough. And Nick, her ex husband, left her for "a guy he'd met on Gay.com."
At one point in the book Jansen mentions that one characteristics she would appreciate most in a man would be a sense of humor like her own. I think she also needs readers who share her sense of humor. For the most part Jansen uses humor that shocks and mocks. I didn't find it particularly funny, but a friend of mine said she found it hilarious. Like any book, this one needs to find the right readers.
Although there were aspects of this memoir that I didn't like (and have already mentioned), there were also parts I found inspiring. I loved the way she dealt with her health issues from a botched operation. She handled them with humor and strength. I was also inspired by the honest way she wrote about her relationship with her abusive husband, who was bipolar and did not stay on his meds.
This book was a selection for my book club. We will be discussing it this Thursday. I'm looking forward particularly to hearing the opinion of one of our members, who was raised as a Mennonite. I think it should be an interesting discussion.
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