The Write Idea

04/09/2011

Midlife Memoir

Filed under: book review — ljcollins @ 3:40 pm
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My father, a well-respected preacher with a mellifluous voice, and my mother, a genuinely Christian woman with an unflappably upbeat perspective on the world, raised my brothers and me in a small Midwestern town amidst conservative values. I became a minister, endured a difficult 14-year marriage, moved to be near my parents at age 43 for the first time in my adult life, and got divorced. So perhaps it is no surprise that I could not put down Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress. Janzen was raised by a Mennonite preacher and his unfailingly cheerful wife, considered seminary before becoming a Ph.D. poet, and when her husband of 15 years left her, moved back in with her conservative parents at age 43 to the Mennonite life she had long since left behind. This book is a side-splittingly funny memoir of that experience.

Janzen, who spends most of her time writing poetry, shows that she is a natural storyteller. There isn’t one of her relatives, neighbors or friends I didn’t wish I could meet after her hilarious accounts of their encounters. The Mennonite Lunchbox Hall of Shame is practically worth the price of the book (especially since she includes the recipes at the end). And being a bit of a religion nerd, I fully enjoyed her short and sassy history of Mennonites in the appendix.

While the book made me laugh uproariously at times, it’s also a poignant and honest telling of the stinging pain of midlife trials and the blessings of family who keep on loving us in their own quirky ways. Janzen clearly loves the parents who took her back in when her life crashed to an undignified halt. And boy, could I relate to that.

I feel almost too connected to the subject matter to say anything objective about this wondrous little book. I’d love to hear from others whose path may not follow hers quite so closely. Did you still relate to her? Did she make you laugh out loud?

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5 Comments »

  1. I,too, laughed from beginning to end while reading this memoir. Interestingly enough, my fellow book club members did not find it nearly as humorous as I did. I do need to say that I was raised in a Conservative Baptist church, so much of the conservatism was super easy for me to understand. My fellow book club members were entirely Presbyterian. Except for the conservatism, though, there is nothing that I found to apply to my life. I have recommended this book to several people, but of those who have read it, none enjoyed it as much as I did.

    Comment by Candi Thomson — 04/09/2011 @ 4:24 pm | Reply

  2. Candi, I’m glad to know we have a similar sense of humor. I think I got mine from my mom, which could explain why you and she are such great friends!

    Comment by ljcollins — 04/09/2011 @ 4:54 pm | Reply

  3. “Rhoda Janzen,” I imagine my mom murmuring. “Is she Jewish?” Nevertheless, based on your recommendation, I may go to the library and give the book a spin. 😉

    Comment by PJ — 04/09/2011 @ 6:22 pm | Reply

  4. I loved this book! I was reading it as I was finishing a phd dissertation on Mennonites and swearing that I couldn’t read another book on Mennonite-related-anything ever. I think I read it in one or two sittings – delightful stuff! The Mennonite community has not uniformly taken it well but I personally thought it was a joy!

    Comment by Emily — 04/10/2011 @ 8:33 pm | Reply

  5. I also read it in two sittings, Emily. I’m sure the Mennonite community has had a mixed response! Are you part of that community these days or just a scholar of them?

    Comment by ljcollins — 04/10/2011 @ 9:04 pm | Reply


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