Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress book cover
Rhoda Janzen
Henry Holt and Company
Oct. 2009 release date

If any of the following are true about you:

  • You were raised in a prominent Mennonite family
  • You are now an English professor
  • You have experienced both a surgical error and a debilitating car accident in the past few years
  • Your husband recently left you for a guy named Bob that he met on a gay dating website

you have probably considered writing a memoir. If ALL of the above are true, your name is Rhoda Janzen, and your memoir Mennonite in a Little Black Dress is a can't miss.

In general, I'm vaguely annoyed by the memoir genre, specifically the recent (the past decade or so) trend of unknown, often struggling writers, dragging us through the mud of their family histories or personal struggles with adulthood's many temptations. I'm sent a lot of memoirs to review that can't hold me past chapter 3.

But Janzen's book is different. The title hints at the emotional and cognitive dissonance that comes from being raised in a very traditional religious community and then growing as an adult into an educated urbanite who leaves the religion of her childhood behind. And some pretty screwed up things happen in her marriage, even before (as she calls him) "Bob the Guy" shows up. But Rhoda Janzen is not screwed up, at least no more than anyone else I know, and her parents are delightful, if eccentric, companions as she stays with them post-divorce while she completes an academic project and tries to sell her too-expensive-without-two-incomes lakefront house.

Many memoirs smell of desperation, but Mennonite in a Little Black Dress is insistently fresh: quick and light when telling funny family stories, of which there are many; clear and frank when discussing complex situations and disappointments. Writing a memoir was a friend's idea after Janzen sent humorous emails about her stay with her parents; she's trained and published as a poet and this is her first non-fiction book. I hope if there are more, they are as funny and as heartfelt as this one.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a book I would like to read...will have to look for it soon.