Sunday, January 20, 2013

Review: Mennonite In a Little Black Dress By Rhoda Janzen

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home
by Rhoda Janzen
Holt Paperbacks, 2010
Trade paperback, 241 pp.
Genre: Nonfiction - Memoir

"It is rare that I literally laugh out loud while I'm reading, but Janzen's voice—singular, deadpan, sharp-witted and honest—slayed me." —Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

Not long after Rhoda Janzen turned forty, her world turned upside down. It was bad enough that her husband of fifteen years left her for Bob, a guy he met on, but that same week a car accident left her injured. Needing a place to rest and pick up the pieces of her life, Rhoda packed her bags, crossed the country, and returned to her quirky Mennonite family's home, where she was welcomed back with open arms and offbeat advice. (Rhoda's good-natured mother suggested she get over her heartbreak by dating her first cousin—he owned a tractor, see.) Written with wry humor and huge personality—and tackling faith, love, family, and aging—Mennonite in a Little Black Dress is an immensely moving memoir of healing, certain to touch anyone who has ever had to look homeward in order to move ahead.
Rhoda Janzen, an American poet and professor of English and Creative Writing at Hope College has written a terrifically fun memoir full of humor and wit.

She returns to her (very Mennonite) parents' home in Fresno, California to recuperate both physically, after a horrible car accident and mentally, after her husband of 15 years left her for a guy named Bob that he met on (a tidbit she mentions often throughout the book).
Food plays a leading role in the book. We are introduced to the culinary stylings of Mennonite women early on as Janzen writes in chapter 2 (humorously titled "Touch My Tooth"),
"The women in our family are the kinds of cooks you can't kerfuffle. You need a dinner for ten an hour from now? No problem."
And in chapter 6, where she hilariously lists the top five Shame-Based Foods for Mennonite Youth Lunches and their reasons. In case you're wondering, the top honor goes to a thermos full of Borscht. Can you even imagine? She includes recipes as told by her mother, Mary, in the back.

Mary is the real star of this literary show. She's unbelievably cheerful and unflappable. And Oh-Em-Gee FUNNY! From trying to set her newly-divorced daughter up with a first cousin (because he drives a tractor) to the giant rip-roaring fart she casually let break in a crowded Kohl's.

Completely unrelated to the book, my uncle broke some nasty wind at my wedding reception. He cleared the open bar, that before the incident, was about five people deep the entire length. You know who I feel bad for? The bartender. He never left.

Okay, back to the book. The only problem I had with the book, and it's a tiny one, is that you can tell that Rhoda is an academic of English by her use of words that I've never encountered in all my life. Keep a dictionary handy. On the bright side, I learned some new words and their definitions. I wish I would have written them down to save you the trouble. But I didn't. Dangit, sorry.

My favorite serious passage is this one on virtue (ironically, it's in the chapter of the breaking of the wind):
"But I have come to believe that virtue isn't a condition of character. It's an elected action. It's a choice we keep making, over and over, hoping that someday we'll create a habit so strong it will carry us through our bouts of pettiness and meanness."

Thank you again, Secret Santa. I really liked this book.

I look forward to reading her sophomore memoir Does This Church Make Me Look Fat? Here's the description from her website:

What does it mean to give church a try when you haven’t really tried since you were twelve? At the end of her bestselling memoir Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, Rhoda Janzen had reconnected with her family and her roots, though her future felt uncertain. But when she starts dating a churchgoer, this skeptic begins a surprising journey to faith and love. Rhoda doesn’t slide back into the dignified simplicity of the Mennonite church. Instead she finds herself hanging with the Pentecostals, who really know how to get down with sparkler pom-poms. Amid the hand waving and hallelujahs Rhoda finds a faith richly practical for life–just in time for some impressive lady problems, an unexpected romance, and a quirky new family. Does This Church Make Me Look Fat? is for people who have a problem with organized religion, but can’t quite dismiss the notion of God, and for those who secretly sing hymns in their cars, but prefer a nice mimosa brunch to church. This is the story of what it means to find joy in love, comfort in prayer, and–incredibly, surprisingly–faith in a big-hearted God.
Primarily set in Fresno, CA, I have traveled across the country from Expecting Adam which was set in Cambridge, MA for my Where are You Reading? challenge.
What books have you just finished? Did you like them?

Talk to you soon,


  1. Replies
    1. I thought it was a fun read. Thanks for stopping by, Juju.


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