This tartly told memoir with its tenderhearted core and luscious detailings of tangy borschts and double-decker Zwiebach buns slathered with homemade rhubarb jam is an honest, philosophical chronicle of poet and English professor Rhoda Janzen's return home at 43, to her Mennonite family, after being chewed up by a soap operatic sequence of very real personal calamities.
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress begins when Janzen's botched hysterectomy leaves her Velcro-strapping a urine collection bag to her thigh for six months. Just as she's snapped back from incontinence, Nick (her hunky, frequently drunk, charming, bipolar, and verbally abusive husband of 15 years) leaves her for Bob, a man he's met on Gay.com. That same week, a tipsy teen driver crashes Janzen's car on a snowy road. She ends up with two broken ribs and a fractured clavicle. "Under circumstances like these, what was�a gal to do?" she asks. "I'll tell you what I did. I went home to the Mennonites."
What transcends Mennonite in a Little Black Dress from a series of zany essays on "Menno" culture (a capella singalongs, raisins, and sweater vests) is Janzen's deeply nurtured respect for her community. She observes that, like the rest of us, Mennonites struggle with bratty children, substance abuse, dieting, and cheesy first dates an admission that opens up her quest to re-learn happiness into a universally felt exploration.
Janzen's spiritual leader turns out to be her sunny, irreverent mother, Mary, whose bouncy perceptions of sorrow, death, marriage between first cousins, and bodily functions she casually breaks wind at Kohl's while inspecting bundt pans end up revealing how intimately she grasps the true order of things. Hillary Huber is the narrator of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress and her droll, throaty voiceover perfectly pitches to Janzen's acerbic wit and academic background. A master quick-change artist, Huber so nimbly spins into bubbly, chattery Mary Janzen that when she conspiratorially shares, "A relaxed pothead sounds nice", about Rhoda's latest fling, it registers as mildly as "Please pass the Cotletten, dear." Nita Rao
The same week her husband of 15 years ditches her for a guy he met on Gay.com, a partially inebriated teenage driver smacks her VW Beetle head-on. Marriage over, body bruised, life upside-down, Rhoda does what any sensible 43-year-old would do: She goes home.
But hers is not just any home. It's a Mennonite home, the scene of her painfully uncool childhood and the bosom of her family: handsome but grouchy Dad, plain but cheerful Mom. Drinking, smoking, and slumber parties are nixed; potlucks, prune soup, and public prayer are embraced. Having long ago left the faith behind, Rhoda is surprised when the conservative community welcomes her back with open arms and offbeat advice. She discovers that this safe, sheltered world is the perfect place to come to terms with her failed marriage and the choices that both freed and entrapped her.
©2009 Rhoda Janzen; (P)2009 Highbridge
Even by the title you can get a glimpse into the mindset of the author, that she is too grand for her awkward 'anti-cool' Mennonite upbringing.
It made me wince with embarrassment as she seemed to underline, again and again how vulgar and frumpy her family culture is compared to the educated and sophisticated circles in which she moves now.
The juxtaposition was amusing, (after her marriage fails, she returns to the bosom of her Mennonite family for some recovery time). However, I felt it got tired.
The plot - being a memoir, was not exciting, and I was bored.
Couldn't wait for it to end.
I have no idea
No, just books by this author
She did well with what she had to work with.
My daughter was assigned to read this book in her senior lit class. I try to get whatever she reads so that we can discuss, (our little two man book club of sorts). After Zeitoun and the Kite Runner (both great books) I was ready for something lighter. To the point this book was just awful. The author came across pretentious and condescending. Kids have something they call a compliment sandwich, wrap two weak compliments around a scathing criticism to mitigate the impact of the critique. The food taste good, smells like fart/looks like vomit and is a hit at trendy parties. This is how the author chose to deal with the cultural traditions of the Mennonites. This book served as a soap box on which the author could expound her revised beliefs and mock the religion and tradition that formed her. Folks..There is no story here. This book is a rudderless boat without direction or destination. Just a disjointed retelling. Their is no humor here, just a dry attempt of infusing her black cloud with sun rays that do not penetrate.
I'm a voracious audiobook listener, rarely found without my iPod.
In a book that feels more like a compilation of essays, we learn about Rhoda's upbringing in a Mennonite family, her departure from the church and her relationship with an abusive, ego-centric man who leaves her for a gay man he meets online. There were stories in the book that had me laughing out loud, however, the story line is only meant as background...to allow her to move to another essay with a lesson to be learned. I found myself very frustrated, looking for the story itself. Janzen's prose is enjoyable even though the story is a bit discombobulated and unstructured.
I read a lot, oftentimes professionally, oftentimes not.
Janzen's observations on her Mennonite roots initially seem overly harsh, but slowly reveal a love and appreciation for her family as well as their traditions. This is a tender and funny memoir rather than a shaming tell-all.
Someone who appreciates sarcastic humor
Maybe. I felt like her tone made it hard to feel sympathetic towards her--although it could have been the way it was read. Perhaps I would have felt differently if I was reading it myself. Because I didn't have sympathy for her--it just became a very boring listen.
It was read in a very sarcastic way. VERY off putting.
A who cares exasperation.
A humorous look at life with a poignant re-evaluation of early values and how they fit and apply to her current life.
The most interesting part was the primer at the end about Mennonite culture - but this was much less a feature of the book than I had hoped it would be.
Anyone with a little more emotion in their voice. Janzen's writing is filled with sarcasm, and yet the performance was flat. The narrator's voice really turned me off of this book; I found myself just waiting for it to end.
The only reason I made myself finish this book was because it was the book for my book club
I found the attempts at wit falling flat and did not find any real value in the story itself
I was hoping to learn a little about the Mennonite community, why the author left and why she returned. Although occasionally amusing, this memoire contained mostly silly, child-like (bathroom) humor, and offered very little in the way of insight into its author's psyche or background. Although the family and culture was religious, it was not different from many other families whose constraints cause some children to rebel and others to embrace its values.
I've finally given up on this book. I just kept hoping it would grab me and beg to be finished, but I can't finish it. I'm tired of hearing her drone on about nothing. I don't feel like this is ever going anywhere. The story is very choppy and goes off on bunny trails. I've had to rewind several times just to make sure I hadn't just missed something. I'm also insulted at her attitude about Christians and Christianity, which is another reason I don't care to listen to the rest.
The narrator attempts different voices for different characters, but several, especially the main character seem bipolar. I'd just as soon have the other characters be read by others.
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