Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

Subtitled "a memoir of going home," Mennonite in a Little Black Dress begins with what is arguably the worst week of author Rhoda Janzen's life. A debilitating automobile crash on the heels of her husband leaving her for a man he met through* is more than she can handle. Janzen decides to recenter herself by spending some time with her family and the Mennonite community from which they are inseparable.

While the narrative is very open and chatty, I found Janzen to be far too self- and Mennonite-deprecating for my taste. The author doesn't portray herself as a sympathetic character. Additionally it seems that that because the Mennonite culture is perceived to be a selling-point, the author felt the need to make that the focus of the memoir. I think the book would have been stronger if I had just been about this difficult patch she went through and her going home (even with all the reminiscences about her childhood). Throughout the narrative, though, Janzen feels the need to make all kinds of witty (or snarky) observations about the Mennonite community in which she grew up. This detracts from the overall story.

I was also disappointed in the ending. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress ends with a strange appendix entitled "A Mennonite History Primer" in which Janzen goes over things that non-Mennonites need to know about Mennonites (many of which had been mentioned multiple times in the course of the memoir). I think the book would have had a better sense of closure without the appendix. The beginning of the appendix looks exactly like the beginning of any of the other chapters so readers are liable to read it as if it is the last chapter (like I did, I didn't realize it was labeled as an appendix until I sat down to write up this book) and as a last chapter it is a bit inexplicable.

This all isn't to say that I didn't enjoy parts of the book and that I didn't laugh out loud at some points, just that I was disappointed. This book seemed to have so much potential so my expectations were high. In particular, knowing that the author is an English professor, I expected the writing to be better.

* Janzen uses the phrase "Bob, a guy he met on" many times (too many times!) during the course of the book.

No comments:

Post a Comment