Nic's Reviews > Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
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Aug 27, 2010

did not like it
bookshelves: tried-to-read-failed
Read from August 27 to September 01, 2010

Extremely disappointing. Having Mennonites in my own family, I was delighted to see this group make an appearance in popular literature and I'm sure that novelty is the only reason this memoir got published - and sold any copies. In fact, it's a bit of a primer of "what not to do" while writing memoir.

It's radically uneven. The voice in chapter one struck me as a stand-up commedian trying too hard. Janzen throws every "pee bag" joke against the wall, hoping some will stick. Chapter two was promising, with some actual SCENES with the funny, believeable character of her mother. Unfortunatley, most of the book is "telling" instead of "showing" so the reader only sees one other memorable character in action, her abusive, bipolar ex-husband. A rare breed of writer can present a lot of narrative without boring the reader, but Janzen's voice wavers from light and comedic (without being funny) to annoyingly academic and erudite. Her observations about her own life, healing, and the ultra-religious culture she was raised in are pithy and weak. She asks a few good questions ("why are girls raised sheltered from violence so fearful?") but offers no answers.

By the end I was skimming, because the story HAS NO PLOT. It starts with a promising SITUATION - "my husband left me for a gay man and I'm physically incapacitated" - but there was no STORY. Just her hanging out with friends and family, healing without really seeming to learn anything or resolve to make healthier choices. So it doesn't even succeed as a recovery memoir. She's always going for the cheap laugh over the painful insight, and if I see the phrase "cordoroy Bible" in print again, I'm going to toss the book across the room.
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08/27/2010 page 40
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