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Editorial Reviews

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 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

Publisher's Summary

A hilarious and moving memoir in the spirit of Anne Lamott and Nora Ephron about a woman who returns home to her Mennonite family after a personal crisis.

The same week her husband of 15 years ditches her for a guy he met on, 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

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  • Overall


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.

  • Overall

Mennonite in a little black dress

II enjoyed this book. Ms Janzen enlightens regarding the life in a Mennonite family and most importantly
explains the decisions she has made regarding her faith and the resulting course her life, marriage and work.

I found the reader to present the literature in a dull and rather sarcastic way.

  • Overall
  • Linda
  • Davis, CA, United States
  • 10-24-10

Cheap humor

Funny at times, the self-deprecating humor and author's making fun of the eccentricities of her parents become tiresome. Book is repetitive and has few interesting themes. The title is catchy and for this reason will sell copies. However, this is a lightweight bit of fluff.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Funny and touching

Rhoda Janzen has Mary Carr's acerbic voice and Elizabeth Gilbert's desire to understand herself. So if you liked "Lit," "The Liar's Club," or "Eat, Pray, Love," you will find this a most satisfying addition to the group.

I listened to this book in bed and kept waking up my spouse because I was cracking up. There were even a few occasions when an actual snort escaped me. I had to turn the book off at that point, just for the sake of harmony in the old bedroom.

If you were the kind of person (like me) who couldn't wait to get away from the place where you grew up, only to realize later all the wonders you left behind--you will love this book.

In particular, I loved the author's rendering of her mother, a doggedly sunny ball of energy with a penchant for dopey scatalogical references, all within the context of a severe and austere religion. Much to laugh at here. I hope Janzen does a follow-up book on her mom! She is a character (and, oh, how I do mean that) about and from whom I'd love to hear more.

I think the narrator did a great job. Her tone is wry and tough when the humor calls for it, and soft when detailing some of the more painful moments.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Big Disappointment

Expected to get a view of the Mennonites. A terribly boring and inane story instead. Sorry I didn't believe other poor reviews.

3 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • John S.
  • Seattle, WA United States
  • 01-25-10

Too self-consciously funny

Unfortunately, the serious points Janzen makes later are overshadowed by the, at times forced, humor. Not a waste of a credit, but I wouldn't fault readers who felt disappointed either.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Lisa
  • fairfield, CT, USA
  • 12-04-09

Don't Bother

As a non-Mennonite I can say, "What a disappointment!!!!" I listened to the book in its entirety hoping that there would be a redeeming aspect but found none. Rather, I walked away feeling as if this "read" had simply been a cathartic exercise for the author that should not have been published.
Firstly, the book is not written by a Mennonite. The author was reared in a Mennonite home and left the faith as a young woman. Basically, the book is an arrogant, "axe to grind" account of the author's life which was seemingly built on a number of poor choices. Although she periodicallly succeeds to extract humor from some of the situations she recounts, more often the recounts are a harsh, judgmental condemnation of a seemingly well-intentioned group of people (the Mennonites). There is also a imbalance throughout the book as the author is diligent to analyze the actions and characteristics of the Mennonites while failing to do the same with her own. As a result one is left feeling as if there has been a "Mennonite-bashing" with the question of "why".

4 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Casey
  • Sunnyside, NY, United States
  • 11-07-09

Neither Memmonite nor black dress...

I have a friend who is a former Mennonite, so I downloaded this book and we read it together. We both agreed to stop listening to it around 3 hours, 30 minutes. I was hoping for insights and my friend was hoping for humorous, relatable stories about being Mennonite. Instead, we got stupid stories that mean nothing. For instance, Janzen goes on and on about playing a board game with her niece. In another part, she goes on and on about having a urine bag taped to her leg. It left you constantly wondering that any of this has to do with being a former Mennonite and when the darn black dress is going to make an appearance.

Save your credits and skip this book.

7 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Sheila
  • United States
  • 06-11-12

So far....very BORING!

What would have made Mennonite in a Little Black Dress better?

I don't know if I'm going to make it through this book! I'm finding it very BORING. I should have read the Amazon reviews first. They told the real story. Lesson Learned!

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Enjoyable but the ending was too transparent...

As Rhoda's saga comes to a close, she hooks up with another Mennonite 17 years younger than she. The guy just happens to be well-educated, well-employed (so she wouldn't have to be a farm wife, or any kind of wife at all, and wouldn't have to sell her deluxe house by the lake) and in a field close to the author's - i.e. a socially acceptable Mennonite, not one of the "uncool" Mennonites of her childhood and teenage years. It's no coincidence that she goes on a "magical mystery tour" at the end of the story to rediscover her heritage right after this attraction begins. I wanted to see Rhoda evolve past her personal baggage of a restricting and oppressing religion and open up more to life. Instead, because of a lustful liaison with a co-Mennonite, she goes back into her past and wants to re-immerse.

There were funny parts to this novel, but I was way more interested in the conflicts of Rhoda's life with the gay husband and the issues of their separation, than I was with the Mennonite thing. The narrator did a great job, with just the right ironic tone. No sense of being too old, too young, nor any identifiable accent. I was only able to listen to this book because of the narrator, and unfortunately I have to reject many audible books because the narrator is too old, too male (sorry, guys), or reads with too much of an accent.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful