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MENNONITE IN A LITTLE BLACK DRESS by Rhoda Janzen

MENNONITE IN A LITTLE BLACK DRESS

A Memoir of Going Home

by

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-8050-8925-7
Publisher: Henry Holt

The author takes stock of the tribulations, tragedy and hilarity that has shaped her experiences thus far, reexamining religious roots, familial influences and personal choices.

Janzen (English and Creating Writing/Hope Coll.; poems: Babel’s Stair, 2006) excavates her past with the might of a backhoe and the finesse of an archaeologist’s brush. Lines as jolting as “Nick had been drinking and offering to kill me and then himself,” about her troubled ex-husband, are tempered by poignant moments of grace during her recovery from a debilitating accident: “Because I couldn't raise my right arm, students sprang up to take notes on the board.” The author’s relatives feature prominently throughout the narrative, her mother’s quirky sensibilities bubbling over in merry nuggets of old-fashioned, home-spun wisdom. Punctuating overarching themes of blithe humor and Mennonite values are brief glimpses of raw despair, which Janzen eloquently, albeit briefly, explores. The recurring question of whether her abusive former spouse ever loved her is found in numerous contexts—solemn, analytical, even whimsical. After hesitantly re-entering the dating world, the author faced the revelation that she is woefully codependent by creating her own 12-step program, with directives such as “Step Two: Sit Down at the Computer with Wild Medusa Hair” and “Step Ten: Branch Out from Borscht.” Within the humor, Janzen offers depictions of calamity and dark truths about regrettable relationships. Unfortunately, the closing primer on Mennonite history falls flat.

A buoyant, somewhat mordant ramble through triumphs, upheavals and utter normalcy.