Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Book Review: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen, Hillary Huber (Narrator)

Boy, Rhoda Janzen has bad luck. The schadenfreude alone would be reason to read this memoir, but luckily she also has a sense of humor and a way with words. I hope I'm not giving away too much but you have to or else there's no plot summary at all. Rhoda grew up Mennonite but as an adult, she strayed far afield, becoming a college professor (Mennonites do not approve of higher education), marrying an atheist, not having children. Then she has a medical issue, and the procedure does not go well. To her surprise, her husband is great at nursing her back to health. Then he leaves her for a guy named Bob that he met on gay.com. A week later, Rhoda is in a terrible car accident. Unable to really get around (and unable to afford her house payments alone), she moves back in with her parents, temporarily. Which means she becomes reimmersed in Mennonite culture.

Most of us are probably pretty unfamiliar with the Mennonites. They are not the Amish - in fact the Amish split with them centuries ago because the Mennonites were so liberal - but liberal is not a word anyone would use to describe them. Rhoda's church had an outhouse. Her mother had grown up wearing clothes made from flour sacks. Rhoda and her first boyfriend in high school dated for a year without even French kissing - because they had no idea it existed. As someone who has lived fully in the secular world for over 20 years, she is the perfect person to introduce us to Mennonite culture. Also it's refreshing that she didn't have any great falling out with the religion herself - it's just not for her, but she respects her parents' beliefs and still likes the food and hymns.

Throughout the narrative, as small incidents of everyday life are conveyed, Rhoda is healing both physically, and emotionally. We get details of her tumultuous life with her artistic, bipolar husband. Returning home was obviously soothing to her soul as well as her body. And her mother is hilarious. Hilary Huber does a good job is giving the different characters different voices (although all fairly nasal though that's not her normal voice), but Rhoda's mother's voice is the best. The slightly childish aspect of the tone matches up perfectly to her upbeat, effervescent personality.

There is an explanation of the Mennonites at the end of the book.

This book is a part of the Audiosynced roundup of audio book reviews at Stacked. She'll have a post May 1 with the full list.


Teresa said...

I've had this one on my TBR list for awhile. Thanks for the review.

Cath said...

I saw this at Borders tonight and really wanted it. Now I want it more!

My grandma was raised Mennonite, so this book is particularly interesting to me. Thanks for the review! I'm sold. :)

Lesa said...

I don't read many memoirs but this sounds interesting and entertaining-- I'm going to pass a link of this post to a memoir lover that I know.

Sarah at SmallWorld said...

Great review--I'm linking up on mine.