Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

I need to take a break from reading memoirs. I have two friends currently writing their memoirs and they're SO much better than the published books I'm reading. Somehow current memoirs do not seem to follow a standard narrative line. It is acceptable to revisit the same topic multiple times throughout a book even though the reader has already learned about the topic, more than once. I prefer reading books that follow a story rather than ones which jump around reciting anecdotal stories without connecting them.

A friend gave me Janzen's book and described it as a light, fun read. The title caught my attention. It's the beginning of summer, a comedic beach read sounded like the perfect idea. The story is light and fun and engaging. I did laugh from time to time. But I was hoping for more. The title is a bit of a tease, suggesting a greater dichotomy between the character and her upbringing than actually appears in the story.

The basic plot of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress is a newly divorced woman who travels to her childhood home for a chance to recover and put her life back together. To add insult to injury her husband left her for a man named Bob who he met on “” Janzen also suffered from a car accident which left her physically hurt. Through the course of the memoir the reader learns thatJanzen’s ex-husband was verbally abusive and a manic depressive who brought his wife into his misery. Janzen counters her experiences with her admittedly bisexual husband to the much more traditional men of her Mennonite upbringing.

Both Janzens’ brothers and her father are devoted Mennonites who accept her differences of opinion relative to religion and lifestyle but yet remain wedded to their traditional views. By the end of the book Janzen has reconciled herself to many of the Mennonite ideas she escaped in college and through her marriage. But she leaves the conclusion necessarily open-ended as to where she will turn in the future.

The whole book rang a bit false, “Ha ha, my husband treated me like crap and then left me. Now I’m going to poke fun at him, at me, and at my upbringing. Isn’t that funny?” I enjoy snark and satire and witty cynicism. But it was a bit too raw and painful to be genuinely funny.


cathy said...

I read this while on vacation, and I mostly agree with you. I did enjoy the book - it was the kind of mindless read that was perfect at the time - but I also expected more from the book. It felt like it had potential, but never quite lived up to it.

g.n.a.t. said...

Exactly Cathy. I don't mean to completely tear it apart. I enjoyed it. It was light and fun. I just had higher expectations based on the cover and what I'd heard.