Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress - Rhoda Janzen

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
Title: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home
Author: Rhoda Janzen
Publication Date: 10/13/09
Pages: 241
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: Read for my Gender in Contemporary Literature course
Date Completed: 3/28/15

Summary: After Rhoda Janzen's bipolar, bisexual husband leaves her for another man, she returns home to spend time with her family. Upon her arrival home, she is plunged into the close-knit Mennonite community in a way she has not been since getting married over a decade earlier.

What I Thought: Before I say anything else, I have to admit this book had me laughing out loud. My mom's family is deeply Mennonite and so I could relate to so many of the funny anecdotes Rhoda told about her family. A night where everyone in the family just brings a different kind of soup? Yep. An affinity for international travel and world peace? Yep. While Janzen may or may not have meant all of these anecdotes to come across as flattering, to me they represented people I care for deeply and ideas I greatly respect, if not adhere to exclusively. 

As I discussed with one of my classmates, I think Janzen goes for the laugh too often. I closed the book wondering how much she actually did care about or invest in her marriage (things I don't actually doubt, but about which she did not do a good job portraying genuine emotion). We also concluded that she must have changed a lot of names, including even those of her parents, potentially. We also felt she took things too far at times, in pursuit of the laugh or shock value.

I really am on the fence about this one. Some parts of it were so funny in the best ways. Others made me mildly uncomfortable and looking for a quick chapter ending. Janzen tackles tough topics with irreverence rather than grace, but that's not always a bad thing....though not always a good one, either. So, to all you potential readers, I say, proceed with caution. There are some real gems hidden in these pages, but some pages you may want to skim through.

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Probably not.

A Reduced Review: An irreverent, but loving memoir about returning to your roots, even when you no longer feel at home among them.


  1. "Janzen tackles tough topics with irreverence rather than grace." That is the perfect way to describe it! I did giggle at the many references to the Chaco because when I was doing my student teaching in Paraguay I lived with missionaries to the Chaco! I also felt that when discussing Mennonite religious beliefs she was kind of condescending. Like she's not so stupid to believe all that now.

    1. I agree. It's clear her intellectualism conflicts with the faith of her roots and she's not quite sure how to handle that. My guess - being (sort of) funny has always been an easy defense mechanism or distraction from the real issues in play.