Mennonite in a Little Black Dress – Rhoda Janzen

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home

Forty-something American/Canadian Rhoda Janzen has had a terrible time of it. Her wonderful, gorgeous husband has left her for for a guy called Bob who he met on and her troubles multiply as, in the same week, she is hospitalized following a serious road accident. Incapacitated, she decides to return to the bosom of her Mennonite family to lick her wounds.

So far so good, I am fascinated by the lifestyle of faith groups such as the Amish and Mennonites and I was eagerly anticipating how Rhoda, a self-proclaimed “bad” Mennonite and 21st Century girl would fit back into this conservative Christian community. However….what I got instead was more like a marathon stint by a stand-up comedian – the “pee-bag” joke was funny the first time I read it but then it cropped up again, and again, and again.. Yes, it’s good to be self-deprecating in a world which sometimes encourages us to wallow in self-pity but after a while it just becomes irksome and there’s surely only so many custard pies you can throw in the face of quirky family and friends before the humour fizzles out.

I would have enjoyed this more if it hadn’t been a book – odd to say in the midst of a book review, I know. Janzen tells us that friends encouraged her to write the book after receiving funny e-mails from her about her return to the Mennonite community. Indeed it is like a series of rambling e-mails except we don’t have the benefit of dates to aid our navigation through the jumble of anecdotes which would have been much better suited to blog posts or a weekly newspaper column. Janzen jumps about through time and space at a pace which would give Captain Kirk a run for his money. I wanted to know more about how she felt, not hear another tale about her mother’s flatulence! Oh and there’s a potted history of Mennonites and a few recipes from her Mom tacked on at the end – something for all the family!

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  1. FleurFisher says:

    I’ve been looking at this one and wondering, but now I’m thinking probably not. Maybe it should have been an extended feature article rather than a book.

  2. JoAnn says:

    Too bad… I think this could have been a really enjoyable book if she’d taken a slightly different approach. Think I’ll pass on it for now.

  3. Violet says:

    Ooooh! Harsh! :) I liked this a lot more than you, obviously. I do agree that it is a bit disjointed, but I admire the way she relentlessly refuses to let life get the best of her. Maybe knowing that since the book was published she has also survived breast cancer made me more kindly disposed. There is to be a sequel, I believe, in which she returns to religion.

  4. admin says:

    Fleur and JoAnn – it does seem to be a bit of a marmite book, some love it, some hate it.

    Violet, I just wish it had some more depth, plus the fact that later on we discover that her OH was bisexual, bi-polar and they split up and re-married at one stage made me feel that there were obvious problems in the marriage but she didn’t state this at the start and it was as if he’d suddenly changed, just like that, out of the blue. I’m also not convinced by her flippancy either, lots of us can put on a brave face and joke about what’s happened to us but feel deeply sad underneath it all – maybe I should write a book! ;-) I can do anecdotes too!

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