Friday, March 25, 2011

Mennonite in a Little Black dress

Rhoda Janzen's memoir of returning, as an adult, to stay with her parents [and of the after- effects of growing up Mennonite] falls smack dab in the middle of a growing genre of literature about people my age who are tortured by the fact that they grew up with religious parents. In Ms. Janzen's case, her parents were Mennonites.

Like all such poor-me-I-had-to-grow-up-in-Church-when-I-really-should-have-grown-up-doing [fill in the blank] memoirists, Janzen seems to think it's from her upbringing, designed to turn her into a passive and obedient Mennonite wife and mother, that caused her to stay too long in a marriage to a gay man who didn't care much for her. [That's another genre of my generation: My-big-fat-Oprah-worthy-marriage....]. Janzen does actually acknowledge enjoying the cooking she grew up doing--even registers amazement at taking a gourmet cooking class and already having mastered nearlly all of it. She also still sews and doesn't mind visiting the elderly. Janzen does truly seem to love and care about her parents [not typical of this genre] and seems to maintain an easy relationship with her sister (it's the relationship with her sister that provides most of the humor) and her mother in particular, who for some reason I pictured as actress Edie McClug....

Photo from:,r:3,s:0

...turns out I was right--she does sort of look like McClug at that (see the photos on Janzen's web page)! Janzen has a predictable phobia of Mennonite men, but does savor getting to know a younger man whose Mennonite granny fixed them up (one of the sweet moments in the book)!

The book is badly quilted together. Don't get me wrong, there ARE memorable, absolutely pee-your-pants funny passages (most are at the beginning of the story). But she belabors and overuses one of the best moments--the joke about her ex-husband. We get it already. You got dumped for another man. That, too, is one of those "moments" in my generation. There are a couple of long-winded passages on her marriage that could have used better editing and another intermidable diatribe that I admit I had to skip thru to keep listening to the book. The teenage-snarking on the "Kohl's problem" was juvenile, not funny. A seemingly random rant on Sororities, while I loved it, did not really have anything to do with the story. It seemed like a piece published elsewhere that was added to the end of the book to make a decent page count.

I came away from this book laughing heartily at some of the antedotes, but convinced once again that Academia [in which I work] is too PC for words except on one front--Christianity. You can say, write, do anything you like if it insults Christians, especially if you use broad generalities that would not be tolerated if you were discussing, say indigenous persons of the Amazon. Better yet if you question the intelligence of people who "actually" believe "that stuff."

Ms Janzen-- I grew up in a secular home, went to secular college and graduate school, yet I came to Believe. I don't hate, I don't vote for any one political party, I don't try to "save" people, I don't hate anyone, I don't counsel pregnant women in any way shape or form, but I do tend to judge people who write entire books condemning people for "judging" others while maintaining it's only the other guy who judges. I'm human. I have nothing in common with the men who run Vision Forum, or for that matter with their wives. I have a ton in common with your academic colleagues--in fact I work in Academia. I can see your lip curl already--"Christian" academia, snicker, snicker "Christian Academia--an oxymoron" as your glib friends might say.

Let me just say, that in a disaster, I'd prefer the Mennonites who will be there with clean water, plastic tarps and prayer and not an academic who'd be there with theories of way people in refugee camps go insane.

Oh, and Rhoda? I HAD the "Josie and the Pussycats" lunchbox you ached for. Believe me, the cool factor wasn't long-lasting. Soon after the Partridge Family burst onto the scene and it was all David Cassidy.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen


Angie said...

So...did Rhoda have any kids by her gay, ex-husband? Did she court him... or date him?

I've heard about gay guys seeking out untouched, scripture following, young women because they are naive and inexperienced. Well, if regular women can fall prey...then the scripture girl doesn't stand a chance. Sorry for getting off topic.

Is this book worth putting on my Nook? :)

Hopewell said...

No kids....There are some truly funny moments. I'd probably wait till you can get it free though....

Izzy said...

LOVE this! I love your honest reviews - i get so annoyed with reviewers who love every book they read and basically regurgitate info from the back cover of the book. I also love that you grew up similarly and still believe :)

Hopewell said...

I didn't grow up similarly---sorry for the misconception. I grew up in a secular family--i.e. not really Chrisitan, not really atheist. We did Church some times--depending on the pastor!!